This Galician town introduced an inspiring weight loss challenge

In a remote corner of northwestern Spain, a small town has set itself the ultimate weight loss challenge: by early 2020, its residents must shed 100,000 kilos (220,500 pounds).

This Galician town introduced an inspiring weight loss challenge
All photos by Miguel Riopa / AFP

Gone are bacon and fried calamari from the diets of thousands of residents in Narón who are taking to sport again as part of a slimming programme that kicked off in January.

“In the 21st century, people forget they're made to walk,” says Carlos Piñeiro, the 63-year-old family doctor behind the programme, which has the support of the town council.

No more tripe

Piñeiro often swaps his practice for the local wooded park where he helps dozens of others warm up and exercise.   

Conrado Vilela Villamar, a 65-year-old former crane operator, is one of Piñeiro's regulars.

“In Spain where people say that you can eat everything in the pig, from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose, the first food I stripped from my diet are tripe, pork belly and cold cuts,” he says.

Perched on the Atlantic coast of the Galicia region, the 40,000-strong town counts 9,000 overweight residents and another 3,000 who suffer from obesity, Piñeiro says.

Known for its gastronomy and often gargantuan dishes, Galicia is the region in Spain with the most overweight people, according to a study by the Spanish Society of Cardiology.

“The rainy weather means people stay at home a lot with a very big daily ingestion of calories,” says Piñeiro.  

More than 4,000 residents — or a tenth of the population — have joined the project.

To show their support, the mayor, Marian Ferreiro, and her municipal councillors weighed themselves together in public on giant scales.   

The programme, drawn up by local doctors, offers personalised diets and physical activity adapted to those who adhere.   

Every now and then, they come to the town's health centres to weigh themselves.

“I walk with friends including a woman who is 80 or so, who holds on to my arm,” says Maria Teresa Rodriguez, 55.   

“In March, I weighed 82 kilos, now 70,” she adds, beaming, standing on the scales.


Every day, she walks or does gymnastics for an hour and a half, and has started dancing on Fridays since her “legs no longer hurt.”   

In the town, 18 restaurants now offer healthier dishes by promoting an Atlantic-style diet full of seafood.   

“I replace salt with algae, fish infusions or a simple dehydrated mussel, and butter with virgin olive oil,” says Diego Platas, a 37-year-old restaurant owner as he cooks a local mackerel.

'I pedal while reading'

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization warned that obesity and the growing proportion of people who are overweight risked reversing the general trend of rising life expectancy in Europe.

In Spain, the topic regularly comes up.   

An interview with a 34-year-old patient in eastern Spain who weighs 385 kilos recently made headlines.   

“It's not at all easy to convince adults” to change their lifestyle, says Piñeiro, whose own family history has been blighted by genetic cardiovascular illness, albeit not linked to weight.

“Some say: 'the last thing I need is for the doctor to tell me what I must do'.”

He is more hopeful that children will catch on.   

At the Jorge Juan school in Narón, for instance, pupils are being encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle in a pilot programme in the town.   

During recess, “we go out to the seaside promenade” with the youngsters, says Maria Jose Cazorla, a 55-year-old teacher, who has lost 14 kilos in a year.

The school's 224 students are given the option of doing sport for one hour every day and those who are reticent can ride an exercise bike for an activity called “I pedal while reading.”

Those who live nearby are encouraged to walk or cycle to school, or ride scooters, wearing special electronic bracelets that let parents know when they have arrived.

The slogan “get addicted to fruit” adorns the walls of the school where fruit is given out every morning.   

But “we don't ever talk about weight directly” to the children, which “would have a stigmatising effect,” says Piñeiro.    

Beyond the 100,000-kilo weight loss challenge, he hopes residents will adopt “a healthy lifestyle to put a brake on chronic illness”, which would also reduce health spending.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux 

READ ALSO: Too fat to fight: Spanish Legion soldiers put on diet 

For members


Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove their masks outdoors?

As Spain's vaccine campaign gains speed and the infection rate drops, there are indications that facemasks will very soon no longer be compulsory outdoors in several Spanish regions.

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove masks outdoors?

Spain’s Health Emergencies chief Fernando Simón said at a recent press conference that he is hopeful about relaxing the rule about the use of masks in outdoor spaces, as long as the safety distance of 1.5 meters can be guaranteed.

“It is very possible that in a few days the use of a mask outdoors can be reduced. Of course, always guaranteeing that the risks are decreasing,” he said.

However, Simón also added that “reducing one measure does not mean that the same should be done with all measures”. In addition, he asked citizens to go “step by step and be careful until we see the effects that mean we can relax the restrictions”.

Although this will be decided in the next few days Simón does not want anyone to “fall into false assurances”.

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020, and since March of this year, you are required to wear them in almost all indoor and outdoor settings, even if you’re sticking to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask-wearing such as eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc. 

Regions that could possibly relax restrictions on the use of masks outdoors

If the mask restrictions are relaxed by the government and the health authorities, the regions that could already qualify because of their low-to-medium risk epidemiological situations include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla La-Mancha, Extremadura, the Valencian region, Murcia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Which regions are in favour of the move?

Both Catalonia and Galicia have said that they would be in favour of dropping the use of masks outdoors.

The Catalan government was one of the first regions to open the discussion on relaxing the use of masks outdoors.

According to Catalan Regional Health Secretary MarcRamentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population having received at least one dose, the matter is worth discussing. 

Not having to wear a mask outdoors will help the summer “feel more like 2019 than that of 2020”, said Ramentol.

President of the Xunta of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijoo, said last week that he expects the use of masks outdoors will be abolished in July, however on Tuesday, May 18th at the Hotusa Group Tourism Innovation Forum in Madrid, he insisted that it is only “a matter of weeks”.

Although Valencia currently still has some strict rules in place, Regional President Ximo Puig has stated that he is in favour of the mask not being compulsory in open spaces. “We know that in open spaces there is a much lower possibility of contagion and I have been supporting this for a long time – it is not necessary to use the mask in some open spaces, natural spaces or on the beaches,” he said.

Which regions want to keep making masks compulsory in outdoor spaces

Regional authorities in Madrid and the Basque Country, the regions which the highest infection rates in Spain have criticised the national government’s position regarding masks, arguing that’s it’s too soon for masks to no longer be obligatory outdoors.

Andalusia is also against the proposal. Jesús Aguirre, Minister of Health and Families in Adalusia, has said that it would be a mistake since the mask is “the most powerful weapon” with which we have to avoid possible infections within the region.