Sunday, 3 October 2010

Japan's fat police

Thanks to DK, I learned of the Japanese government's efforts to get 'their' citizens to slim down. It turns out it's an old story, reported in the New York Times on 13 June 2008:

Summoned by the city of Amagasaki one recent morning, Minoru Nogiri, 45, a flower shop owner, found himself lining up to have his waistline measured. With no visible paunch, he seemed to run little risk of being classified as overweight, or metabo, the preferred word in Japan these days.

But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches, he had anxiously measured himself at home a couple of days earlier. “I’m on the border,” he said.

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.


To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.

One of the best arguments against public healthcare is that it can be used to justify such meddling.

UPDATE: On reflection, one of the most disturbing aspects of this story is that the Japanese government chose to hold corporations responsible, rather than individuals. They blurred the line between private companies and government agents.

Corporate Social Responsibility is a dubious enough concept when it is undertaken by company executives, as explained so eloquently by Jamie Whyte and Philip Booth; it is a truly ghastly notion when imposed by the state. Managers who should be looking after the interests of shareholders, by delivering products valued by customers, are diverted from this productive activity to act as spies and enforcers. The horror of the government imposition is masked by a level of indirection; employees feel that it is their employer, rather than Big Brother, who takes such a keen interest in their eating habits.

Watch the CNN report about the steps taken by NEC, and weep:

I like to think that the British are a less pliable people than the Japanese, but we're not the country we used to be. I wish I could be sure it couldn't happen here.

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