Fat Outlawed in Japan

Laurie and Debbie say:

We would so like to believe that this is an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not.

Corporate Japan will join the country’s battle against bulging waistlines next month with the introduction of compulsory “flab checks” for the over-40s and penalties for firms that fail to bring their employees’ weight under control.

Health authorities hope the measures will arrest the rise in obesity among middle-aged men and slow soaring medical costs. All employees over 40 – about 56 million people – will be required to take the test to determine whether they are at risk of metabolic syndrome – symptoms associated with being overweight that, if left unchecked, increase the risk of strokes, heart disease and diabetes. Men with girths of more than 85cm (33.5in) will be given exercise and diet plans .

According to reports, firms will be required to cut the number of overweight workers and their dependants by 10% by 2012. Those that fail to reach the targets face surcharges of up to 10% on contributions to a welfare fund for the elderly.

By the way, the waist size limit is an inch and a half bigger than Laurie’s waist, and Laurie is thin by American standards, even though she looks like the “before” picture in Japanese weight loss ads for women.

As so often, Sandy Szwarc is in first with trenchant commentary.

According to government officials as reported by the Independent, 27 million Japanese — that’s about half of all adult workers! — have health indices (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and BMI) that don’t meet ideal numbers. They will be targeted for mandatory medical intervention. That means compulsory medication, because, as we know, health indices have been set so low that most adults with normal aging will fall on the wrong side.

And this is happening in a country with almost no fat people! Japan has one of the lowest rates of obesity of anywhere on the planet, except for starving, impoverished regions of the world. According to the IOTF, as of March 2008, only 3.4% of Japanese had BMI over 30. This compares to 3.3% in 2005.

The director of the Medical Urban Clinic in Osaka, Toshio Mochizuki, told Bloomberg he is concerned about the new movement to castigate heavier people in Japanese society. “I’m worried that the overweight will start to be shunned at the workplace and these new rules will make no one want to hire them,” he said. Others have noted that older workers will also be hurt in employment by this.

We agree with every word of Sandy’s post. It’s hard to think how this could be worse for Japanese people, not to mention the risk of it spreading to other countries.

As we would expect, fads for men’s girdles and other gadgets to disguise “girth” are already getting a lot of play. The next thing that will happen is potentially dangerous weight-loss surgery for people we would call thin, which will (of course) increase the “soaring health costs.” Since no corporation is going to be willing to pay the 10% surcharge, thousands (if we’re lucky, only thousands) of people will lose their jobs. Women will be hurt less than men, because the Japanese have not previously discriminated against fat men, while the vast majority of female corporate employees have jobs which “require” being young, thin, and pretty.

And don’t think the victims here will “just” be the corporate employees. Children and adolescents are at real risk here. Anorexia levels are already extremely high in Japan, and this will raise them further: “Don’t eat, dear, you’ll never get a job.” And kids who don’t fit will, as everywhere, be harassed, bullied, and excluded.

Let’s keep working on those height-weight discrimination laws!

Japan, fat, size acceptance, body image, fatphobia, legislation, civil liberties, Body Impolitic

4 thoughts on “Fat Outlawed in Japan

  1. Holy Crap. I would be fired. So would my husband. Both his parents and both of mine. In fact, most people I know would not meet that criteria. My kids would be in trouble too.

    Perhaps like our American movies and music, our fat-hatred and fat-fear and media-ized Obesity Epidemic has leaked into Japan and made them fear our fat would leak onto them?

  2. You May be on to something there Tracee. No, I mean REALLY. America has been exporting music, movies, attitudes good AND bad. Why not this? Could be the scientists that are working so hard trying to prove that fat is ‘socially contagious’, might, should-be, looking at wether or not body hatred and eating disorder ‘Social Contagions’ haven’t ALREADY vectored across national borders and into other COUNTRIES.

  3. Yeah, they probably should.

    I read an interesting fat stat about Americans the other day in O Magazine.

    Though we keep hearing that Americans keep getting fatter and fatter – it’s not the women. Women stopped getting fatter in 1999. American Men finally flatlined this year.

    Maybe we exported that trend and Japan is just being way more rigid about how they handle it.

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