In which the state inspects my trousers, sees what size they are and shakes its head.

Japan has passed a law that requires companies to measure the waistlines of their employees (aged 40-75) during health checkups. Government limits (based on International Diabetes Forum guidelines) have been established for acceptable waist sizes, and people whose waistlines do not fall within this range will be given thre months to lose the weight. If they have failed to do so they will receive “dieting guidance”. “If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.”
his is stupid. Here’s why:

  • Fat people are not stupid. These are adults (and have been adults for quite a while) – even the most paternalistic of governments must believe them to be capable of making informed choices about their bodies. People who are fat are generally aware of the fact. They are bombarded with reasons not to be fat (eg. Being able to find nice clothes that fit) constantly. If people do wish to lose weight (and why assume that they do?) they will presumably find their own motivations to do so. But while a government can certainly make diet counseling available to its citizens, there’s something very creepy about forcing them to avail of it.
  • International Diabetes Federation guidelines are just that: guidelines. I’m not going to deny any connection between weight and health, but it is perfectly possible for people who are overweight to be healthy. To demand that people (who may or may not be perfectly well, and who may have far healthier eating habits than some of the thinner people) lose weight for the sake of their health is ridiculous. (To *demand* that even people who are unhealthy lose the weight is also ridiculous, but I’ve already made that point. People’s bodies are their own.)
  • The assumption that people are fat only because they don’t eat or exercise right? I’m sure there are people who are fat for those reasons and who could, if they chose to (and if time and economics and all sorts of other factors allowed it of course) lose weight. I know very well that I could lose weight myself if I made the effort to. There are also people whose weight is related to other, non-diet-related reasons. What possible positive effects could ‘re-educating’ them (and how creepy is that word?) have? I mean, it’s not like fat people aren’t told constantly that their weight is completely within their control and that if they are overweight it’s their fault for not making the effort.
  • Fat people aren’t treated particularly well by the medical industry to begin with. My own experiences with doctors haven’t been too awful (but there’s a matter for another post) but most other fat people I know have horror stories to tell; things like symptoms that would otherwise be taken seriously being dismissed as due to weight and the like. This is not going to help.

(Comments abusing fat people for being fat will not be published. Because I’m just tyrannical and oppressive like that.)

13 Comments to “In which the state inspects my trousers, sees what size they are and shakes its head.”

  1. What can you expect from a country whose national legislature is called the Diet?

    But, seriously, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. It’s not like they’re making it illegal to be fat. I have no reason to believe that ‘dieting guidance’ is not just dieting guidance, rather than some Orwellian scheme to cull out fat people and send them to labor camps. This is Japan, not Stalinist Russia.

    Let’s say I’m a fat person living in Japan and my waistsize falls outside the range. All this means, so far as I know, is that once every six months I get a day or two off work to go attend some diet training session which I can blithely ignore if I’m fine with my weight the way it is. At worst the whole thing will just be a waste of my time (pun intended). If, on the other hand, I am concerned about my weight and do want to lose some, I get free guidance and counselling paid for by the government. That’s not such a bad deal. If the government were penalizing people for being fat – charging them higher taxes, say, or denying them rights granted to other citizens, that would be an issue. But I don’t see that happening here. Admittedly it would be more cost-efficient to make this thing voluntary, but I don’t see that it’s a major burden.

    None of which is to say it isn’t a rather trivial use of government funds. The people who should be complaining about this are not those who don’t meet the guidelines, but those who do, i.e. thin taxpayers. What this program means is that they’re now paying money to help other people get free nutrition counselling / diet guidance.

  2. This would make a lot more sense if they had dieting advice for those with a below average waist-size, as well. The assumption I have a problem with is that being underweight is not as unhealthy as/ far more acceptable than being overweight.

    - Jabberjee

  3. What are they gonna do if all these measures fail? Do they realize most fat people have dieted (literally) AD NAUSEUM?

    Why do they think their guidance is the “magic” guidance?

    Recipe for total disaster… thanks for this enlightening and informative post.

  4. When I first heard about this my jaw dropped. I live in Japan, I’m a middle school teacher. I’ve traveled all over Japan and have met teenage girls from all over Japan. My impressions, based on my experience, is that:

    1) Very few Japanese teenagers have weight problems, and

    2) Very many – far too many – Japanese girls have eating disorders.

    And now we’ve got this ridiculous new law codifying the conflation of waist size with overall health.

    I know a couple of Japanese people – one co-worker comes to mind – who “fail” the waist size test. This particular man is also my school’s soccer coach, and one of the healthiest, most athletic people that I know. He also happens to be squat and bulky. But so what? He can run a marathon. He did earlier this year.

    This new law stinks.

    And… I can’t help but wonder if the government is going to make exceptions for sumo wrestlers.

  5. My former employer made a rule for all its senior managers -to lunch with the boss. Everyday. While we were initially pleased with the heirarchial previlege, it started getting torturous with his incessant shop talk.
    Later, one colleague overheard the boss speak to his friend; “I make sure all my important ones eat with me so they eat less and therefore don’t fall asleep, nor put on weight!”
    We revolted, and merrily put on some weight!

  6. Falstaff – I’m not suggesting that it’s as obviously draconian as all that. But leaving aside the forcing counselling on people (for something they may or may not see as a problem) and the possible added stigma against fat people (and these are real issues as far as I’m concerned) I can see this having other effects as well.
    If companies are going to suffer financial penalties based on the weights of their employees, this is inevitably going to affect their hiring preferences, how they treat overweight people already in the company, and so on.

    Jabberjee – Yep. I presume exceptionally thin people would receive help if it were found to be necessary, though. Of course, fat people can just be assumed to be unhealthy and in need of counselling by default.

    Daisy – Do they realize most fat people have dieted (literally) AD NAUSEUM?
    Well then they must have been lazy and greedy. It’s their fault. *rolls eyes at the world*

    Nenena – As far as I know the 40-75 group that this is targeted at is the age with the highest risk of diabetes. I’m not sure how common eating disorders are within this age group. But I certainly wouldn’t have thought obesity was an issue.
    My mother has been trying to lose weight for years. She eats healthy food, exercises lots, and is one of the most physically fit people I know. She also has a tummy. So yes, conflating waist size with fitness is sometimes completely misleading.

    Snaire – Good grief. Was your not putting on weight that important to him?
    As for not sleeping, I am a big fan of power naps. Except mine just extend themselves into normal naps.

  7. I also live in Japan, though that hardly makes me an expert. Still, here’s my two cents. And by the way, Aishwarya, your points are all good ones.

    I can back up Nenena: “obesity” and “Japanese” are two words that don’t naturally go together. The waistline guidelines must be ridiculously stringent for more than half of all Japanese men 40-74 to be expected to fail them.

    I think the issue is that the Japanese government is desperate to find ways to reduce its share of providing healthcare costs, especially for the elderly. Japan has the largest percentage of elderly citizens in the world– currently 19%, and expected to keep on rising. As in any country, elderly people have higher health care costs; it’s just that in Japan, there’s more of them.

    The troubling issues you raise about personal autonomy aside, I suspect that the government’s motives in this case are relatively “pure”– it really is just attempting what they see as a cost-saving method to keep people healthier. But the critics who say its overly stringent demarcations will just result in over-diagnosis, over-medication, and higher costs in the end, are probably right too.

    Oh well!

  8. This post ( reminded me of your post so I came running over here to tell you.

    “And as to the question she’s inevitably asked — but aren’t you promoting an unhealthy lifestyle? — she points out not only that you can’t tell anything about a person’s lifestyle just by looking at her but also that she personally eschews the drugs, booze and cigarettes that make up the bulk of many “healthy-looking” models’ diets.”

    How the hell does one hyperlink on blogger? What are the HTML tags?

  9. Uhh, earlier attempt to leave link did not work as intended.

  10. Quin – I can see why they’d wish to reduce their share of healthcare costs (though perhaps focusing on structural changes to reduce lifestyle related disorders might make more sense), and yes, I see this as being more expensive in the long run as well. In addition to everything else that’s wrong with it.

    Kav – I hadn’t read that, thanks! I liked a lot of what she says. Though as is usual with Salon, the comments are depressing.

  11. I HATE it when people assume that I want to lose weight just because I’m fat. My best friend has an annoying habit of commenting on the amount and things I eat, and when I told her I don’t like it, she said that I’m never going to lose weight if I eat like that.

    Well, I don’t WANT to lose weight. I mean, if I could miraculously become 10 kgs lighter and 5 inches thinner, that would be great, but I don’t think it’s worth all the effort.

  12. I find it difficult why one after other fellow bloggers have decided to lam bast Japan’s decision to counsel its fat citizenry. See, if the govt. keeps asking pesky and embarrassing questions, you will be forced to do more just to prevent your face.

  13. I am surprised why nobody mentioned this, especially, by bloggers from Japan. You know what they should be having? Counselling sessions for people who cut themselves, because they can’t handle life, and for those who stab other people, because they can’t handle other people living around them.

    Instead, they want to pick on fat people. Sheesh.t

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