Are Japense obesity rates really that high

The nation of Japan has a fascinating medical system. They use a program where all medical rates are negotiated between the government and providers. Everyone is covered through compulsory insurance premiums that are tied to where you work or where you live. A recent Frontline episode dug into the Japanese medical system and really pulled back the covers.

One of the things the program eluded to is that costs in Japan are rising, which means there is pressure to increase fees. It would be unpopular, as the Japanese see their doctors more than three times the rate of Americans. I bring this up only to demonstrate the Japanese are active participants in their medical care.


It’s surprising then that the Japanese have decided the best way to fight obesity is to measure waists. The theory is that those with a higher waist measurement will be at higher risk for diabetes, which the Japanese affectionately call metabo.

The Japanese aren’t too overweight as a society to start, so it’s odd they would choose this as their line in the sand. Putting aside the fallacy of waist measurements as a determining factor of health, it seems like smoking would be the proper thing to go after.

The hammer in this situation is that companies would face fines if too many of their workers exceeded 33.5 inches in the waist for men. Think about that measurement. 33.5 inches for me. For women the measurement comes in at 35.4. Amazing.

A professor from the Tokai University School of Medicine said it best:

I don’t think the campaign will have any positive effect. Now if you did this in the United States, there would be benefits, since there are many Americans who weigh more than 100 kilograms. But the Japanese are so slender that they can’t afford to lose weight.


Why would the Japanese do this? I think it’s to push more of the healthcare costs onto employers and lessen the government’s burden.