Junkfood Science: Diversity outlawed in Japan

April 01, 2008

Diversity outlawed in Japan

Can you imagine being forced by the government to undergo blood tests, take prescription medications (with controversial safety and effectiveness), and lose weight until your waist measures less than 33.5 inches ... or lose your job? This is not an April Fool’s joke, but a very disturbing story. Today, the Japanese government institutes its compulsory “flab checks” for all workers over the age of 40.

To stem Japan’s “soaring obesity,” the health ministry has mandated that all waistlines among its 56 million workers over age 40 be below “regulation size” of 33.5 inches (for men). Any company failing to bring its employees’ weight under control — as well as the weights of their family members — will be fined up to 10% of its earnings by the government.

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.

The Guardian reports:

Japanese firms face penalties for overweight staff

Corporate Japan will join the country's battle against bulging waistlines [this] 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 ... Men with girths of more than 85cm (33.5in) will be given exercise and diet plans and, in urgent cases, told to see a doctor...

Men are about 10% fatter than they were a decade ago, while women are more than 6% heavier. The ministry hopes to see a 25% reduction in the number of people at risk over three years. 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%...

"If it can prevent even a small number of people from developing cardiovascular diseases it will be good news for them and their families," Yuji Matsuzawa, director of the Japan Society for the Study of Obesity [part of the pharmaceutical industry-sponsored International Obesity Task Force], wrote in the Asahi newspaper.

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 ≥30. This compares to 3.3% in 2005.

Yet this “rising rate of corpulence has so alarmed the government,” Bloomberg reported two weeks ago, that it triggered these compulsory tests. The exams have also made “the battle of the bulge a national obsession.”

As Patrick Rial and Kotaro Tsunetomi with Bloomberg wrote in “Japan's Bulging Waistlines Trigger Flab Tests in Land of Sumo,” this new weight obsession is being capitalized on by an array of companies selling ‘health and fitness’ and weight loss gimmicks:

...Japanese are riding the Joba, a $1,400 machine that mimics a bucking bronco; climbing inside the $39,000 Metabology Diet System, a capsule that bathes users in electric currents and steam; and watching military-style boot camp videos.

Mitsuke, a city 160 miles northwest of Tokyo, has even called in superheroes, naming five “Metabo Rangers'” to crusade for a healthier lifestyle. After completing an education and fitness course, the five tubby, middle-aged men now appear on TV and give newspaper interviews promoting diet and exercise...

Last month at the Tokyo Health Industry Show, Japan's largest annual expo for health products, vendors on Anti- Metabolic Alley peddled headphones for workouts and pedometers for climbing stairs, as well as slimming drinks and potions. Ryoichiro Hangui, a Tokyo-based manager at Mizuho Investors Securities Co., a division of Japan's third-largest financial group, has compiled a list of 27 stocks he expects to benefit from increasing fitness awareness. They include Kao Corp., which markets Healthya brand teas as a diet aid, and Rohto Pharmaceutical Co., producer of a Chinese herbal medicine called Bofutsushosan that promises to whisk fat from the midsection. Rohto has racked up sales of about 20 billion yen since introducing the drug in November 2006, the company said.

Already, businessmen are looking to buy special undergarments to help their middle-age spread be less targeted by employers... girdles!

Wacoal conducted a survey of Japanese businessmen in their 30s and 40s and found that 95% now consider their waistlines their biggest body concern. The company came to the rescue with special undergarments. The news reported last week on the company’s new men’s underwear to “tame bulging waistlines.” Men are told the thigh-length tight underwear will help their stomach muscles develop, but they’re really just girdles to suck it in for them.

Under this degree of government duress, even the bariatric industry has found a new market in Japan, where the surgeries have been coined “sumo surgery.” Tragically, even the traditional esthetic appreciation of those of size has become condemned as a result of the government's new size regulations.

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.

© 2008 Sandy Szwarc

Thanks David!

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