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A Better Answer than Fat Classes for a Nation's Obesity Problem

childhood obesity, japan health

Japan fights obesity with what Americans would consider intrusive laws. One economist-in-training likes it.

Atlantic blogger Noah Smith thinks Japan might be on to something in its effort to curb the country’s growing obesity problem. A few years ago, lawmakers in the industrialized world’s skinniest nation decided to fine companies or local governments for overweight workers and citizens who refuse to enroll in evening fat classes.

Smith knows this is far too much intrusion for Americans to stomach, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking the idea is pretty great. But since its a non-starter, he offers up other ideas for fighting overweight and obesity in the US: frank food labeling (“This food contributes to obesity,” “This food contributes to good health”), a sugar tax and subsidies for healthy foods, and education.

I’m not opposed to any of his ideas, but I think he’s missing one of the biggest — regulating advertising and marketing aimed at kids.

Smith argues that schools should take on the task of teaching nutrition and healthy choices, but he doesn’t ask for anything to swat away at the annoying results of billions of dollars in studying and developing brand messages specifically aimed at getting kids to ignore their parents and do whatever it takes to get their hands on ingestible garbage.

I can only imagine the ends some Japanese workers will go to in order to shed extra pounds for the boss. So I think it’s interesting to admire that tactic while completely ignoring the power food processors have with unfettered access kids desires and tastes — this, they know, even in spite of savvy “No!”-saying parents.

In addition to subsidies of crops that provide the cheap ingredients in so much of the unhealthy and over-processed foods that are contributing to poor health in the U.S. (and, incidentally, Japan, where the traditional meal sure was healthy but you should see what kids these days over there are eating!), regulation of advertisement, especially that directed at children, might be the better recipe for a healthier life.

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