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Big Brother is watching your waistline

Monday, June 16, 2008

Last year, I read the book "Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat," which touted how healthy the Japanese diet and lifestyle is. Compared with 34 percent of American women, just 3 percent of Japanese women had a body mass index of 30 or higher in 2005. (A BMI of 30 is the bottom of the "obesity" category.)

The Japanese, with a diet rich in vegetables, seafood and rice, are infinitely healthier... and their government wants to keep them that way.

"Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population." Read more at NYT.com . (The waist limit is 33.5 for males and 35.4 inches for women, thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation.)

It's an interesting tactic for getting people to slim down, and Japan provides socialized medicine for its citizens, so I understand why the government cares so much. (And no one will be fined, jailed or punished in any other way. Those whose waists exceed the limits will receive "dieting guidance.")

What do you think? Do you think that a government should intervene in health matters? Is health a personal matter?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I think this is one of those things that can easily be implemented in Japan due to its culture, where people are groomed from an early age to comply with social norms. Somewhere like the U.S., it would never pass as a national law. At best, it would be offered as an incentive by insurance companies to reduce premiums for employees or something. If the government got involved, it would do it like it does everything else... via tax incentives. Even then, though, you can bet on people protesting that it's discrimination against "fat but fit" people (which, considering health research, is a whole other can of worms).
    4395 days ago
    Ok, I'll chime in. I'll start off by adding that this is exactly why we still need smokers around. To serve as a smoke screen to shield the overweight people! (Ok, so I'm actually not for smoking...)

    I doubt anyone is genetically predisposed to smoking, but I can believe that there are some people who are overweight due in part to genetics. So I'd feel for them, if they don't have much of a voice in the fight and are steamrolled by regulations that are voted in by a different majority that doesn't *think* that they are also overweight (guess it depends on where the waist line is drawn) or unhealthy in some way since you can never know when something may hit you (cancer, etc.)

    However, I was somewhat encouraged by a recent SP poll that seemed to indicate that most people don't think "unhealthy" people should pay a lot more for their health insurance premiums. I'd hate to think about a division between us based on whether our genes gave us high cholesterol or high BP or those who don't seem to have that problem.

    All of that being said, that's why I think it's important to have a POSITIVE influence for things that can be changed (diet, exercise, etc.) like Spark People.
    4397 days ago
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