Thursday, September 06, 2012

New Atlantic piece: Government, help us fight fat!

Keeping with my recent "Japan" theme, I have a piece up at the Atlantic about one thing that Japan undeniably does better than us: Fighting fat. The upshot:
Government paternalism is in some sense a last resort, but it has worked wonders in the realm of public health in the past. Hand-washing regulations, sewage treatment regulations, cleanliness education, and other such paternalistic initiatives brought us out of the cesspool of the Middle Ages into the clean, safe, mostly disease-free paradise in which we now reside. Fat, though not contagious, is no different in terms of its ability to cripple and kill our citizenry, and the epidemic has reached emergency proportions... 
The American people must become healthy again. It's time to bring in the government.
Check out the whole thing!


  1. Anonymous7:27 PM

    Don't Japan have an unfair advantage since their parliament is known as the Diet?


  2. Mr. Smith:

    You write: “Americans, of course, would never submit to this sort of violation of personal liberty.”

    The Japanese measures appear to be a system of incentives and disincentives built around the national, mandatory, and universal healthcare to reduce healthcare costs by enhancing public health. Are the Europeans doing nothing in this respect? They have universal healthcare and some of those people are pretty smart. I would also be surprised if some US insurance companies haven’t already worked out similar arrangements for the products that they offer to private companies.

    The real “violation to personal liberty,” of course, is the mandatory nature of the Japanese universal healthcare system itself… not that I mind that particular intrusion myself.

  3. Another example you might cite where government intervention has apparently improved the nation's health is the effect of rationing in the UK during WW2. The wartime diet was richer in fruit and vegetables and with much less saturated fat than later in the 20th Century. And the generation that, as children, experienced "the hardships" of this rationing have, as the UK's Office of National Statistics cited in the link to the BBC website given below suggests, been noticeably healthier. Rationing "may have improved general health during childhood and later".

    Here's the link

  4. Noah,

    I strongly recommend you read the book, "Eat to Live" (2012) by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., for your own health, and to be able to write better on these issues. Fuhrman presents a great deal of strong scientific evidence that the optimal diet is one that's predominantly unrefined plant food.

    Your emphasis on fat, a macronutrient, rather than type of food (refined and/or animal) shows you really don't know the key fundamentals -- and I do follow a predominantly Fuhrman diet, and am a lean 180 at 6'3", with blood pressure 110/70, and cholesterol of 128, and I'm months shy of 50.

    Another even more scientific book is "The China Study" (2006), by acclaimed Cornell nutritional scientist, T. Colin Campbell. Campbell was the director of the Oxford-Cornell China Study, the largest and best epidemiological study in history.

  5. Anonymous9:20 AM

    Guess there wasn't much diet paternalism in Japan pre the 2008 law? And that obesity was rising but still low then. Has it fallen back since?

    Anyway you make sensible suggestions, except that the science on what is healthy doesn't seem settled. Anti-sugar, pro-veg seems safe, but following Lustig onto others like Taubes it looks to me that a big contributing factor behind the obesity epidemic has been governments' advice to eat less fat and more carbs. Probably different people's bodies react differently to different food but for me cutting down on sugar and flour over the past year has made losing weight effortless (while eating lots more fat). If you have any interest I liked these sites

  6. I noticed something similar when I moved to Germany. Right before the weight loss, however, I noticed (A) that the size of portions at restaurants, even fast food ones, was noticeably smaller than the American standard I was used to, and shortly thereafter (B) that it was actually enough food to satisfy. Or as Maxi Jazz put it, "America's big, you love how they pile up your plate / only place in the world even I can gain weight."