What Japan's government can teach us about fighting fat

PeJo/Shutterstock.com

The well-known statistics on American obesity were anecdotally confirmed for me on a recent layover in Canada, when I was struck once again by how easy it is to tell Canadians from Americans. Those who headed for the "American passport holders" line looked lumpy in all the wrong places. Those who headed for the "Canadian passport holders" line, on the other hand, were of a very different breed. One might hazard to call their appearance "healthy."

You would be wise and correct to point out that my observation suffers from both sample size bias - a passport line is not a statistically significant cross-section of anything - and confirmation bias, since Americans have a well-known reputation for plumpness. But this is a case where casual observation reflects a fundamental truth: Americans are remarkably fat and getting fatter, even though we are obsessed with asking ourselves, why?

The scale of our bigness -- 34 percent of Americans are obese, compared to 24 percent of Canadians -- is made more striking by the scale of our efforts to combat it. America spends more money per person than any other country on "health care" (yes, I put that in quotes), while achieving worse outcomes than most of our peers in almost every conceivable dimension. The trillions we spend relative to Canada (about twice as much, per capita) do not make it any harder to tell Canadians from Americans in the immigration line.

But the bridge between America and Canada can be found in an unlikely place: Japan. 

DIETS AND DICTA

See, I am solidly in the "American" group when it comes to personal body maintenance - always trying to lose those last 35 pounds - and yet a funny thing happens to me every time I spend a summer or a couple of years in Japan. Within a couple months, I drop to a healthy weight. I begin to look (though not necessarily to dress) like a Canadian. This might be what one would expect, given that Japan has the lowest rate of obesity in the developed world. Books with titles like "Japanese Women Don't Get Fat" may sound smug and condescending, but, as in comedy, there is often truth in smugness.

Why are the Japanese so slender? There are three reasons, and none of them has to do with genetics. One is the traditional Japanese diet, which is heavy on fish, vegetables, and rice. The second is Japan's mass-transit-centered urban design, which encourages Japanese people to walk a lot more than Americans. But the third factor is paternalism. Japan's government takes an active role in combating any hint of an upward trend in fatness.

Read the entire story at The Atlantic.

(Image via PeJo /Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.