By Osprey Brown
I was sitting in my apartment this morning, checking the news online when I saw a facebook post by my fellow UG marketing team member, Ranjani, saying that being fat had been outlawed in Japan. I have to tip my hat to sensationalized headlines because this was a video clip I was unable to ignore. Of course, Japan had not literally banned being fat—although, it might have been fun to see what would happen to the NFL after the insurgency of ex sumo wrestlers came to America looking for work. What did happen was that new regulations imposed by the Japanese government are enforcing fines and increasing insurance premiums for companies whose employees exceeded a certain waste size. The reasoning is that obesity is a liability when it comes to providing health care due to the increased risk for disease which is associated with being overweight.
Any properly conditioned red blooded American, no matter how liberal or culturally sensitive, would have been offended by the apparent impingement on a seemingly basic and personal freedom— to eat what you want. However, the stark cultural contrast and the sometimes ignorance of American attitudes was put in perspective when I came across an article about my home state Virginia. In good old Fairfax County and The District of Columbia, they have apparently banned chocolate milk from middle school lunches. Oh no! Virginia is slowly trying to reinstate racist policies by banning the darker of the milks! They would try to—oh wait, as it turns out the otherwise healthy milk becomes a source of high fructose corn syrup with the fake chocolate additive, which is shown to promote childhood obesity. What do you know? A former confederate state actually passed some helpful and progressive policy on its own. Don’t worry I was caught off guard too. What wasn’t so surprising was the reaction that this move received. Angry moms did so much as to go on facebook to criticize this policy.
So there is a single problem, but there are very big differences in attitudes on what measures are acceptable to try and solve it. The Japanese government sees fit to do some moderate regulation of society’s health and as result winds up influencing some choices which we might consider personal liberties. On the other hand, school lunches have a Myriad of unhealthy food choices; but the minute the government attempts to present one less unhealthy food choice Americans act as though there is a communist coup!
But then again, is the Japanese government’s policy so bad? It is an effort to address only one part of a very serious problem. Here is the other part of that problem. There are, of course, the various staggering statistics about the inefficient use of western food sources. WFP reports that for 3.6 billion dollars we could properly feed all the world’s malnourished children. This figure is brought into perspective when you consider that Europeans spend 11 billion dollars on ice cream alone. I mentioned that chronic hunger is particularly damaging because of the generational health problems caused by malnutrition at critical periods in one’s life—during pregnancy and the first two years of infancy.
The force of this is that the problem of world hunger is not one which arises from lack of resources, but rather from disparate distribution of nutrition worldwide. On the Center for Disease Control’s website it says that America has become a ‘obesogenic’ society—a society that promotes over eating, bad nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle. Millions of people aren’t getting the right nutrition when the need it most causing chronic hunger and generational malnutrition; and millions of people are getting too much of the wrong nutrition when they don’t need it causing obesity. So the problem is even bigger: there is a worldwide nutrition crisis and millions of people in every corner of the world are suffering from it.
So what is the lesson of this anecdotal cultural comparison of attitudes towards weight and well being? That America will not tolerate racism against dairy products? When it comes to solving the same problems different cultures have different attitudes which often determine the effectiveness of the solution. In America if you try for one second to regulate the use of something that is bad for you, people act like you’re destroying liberty in the western world as we know it. On the other hand, cultures like Japan’s culture are more willing to mandate or incentivize healthy behavior.
The problem still remains. The question now is what is the culturally appropriate solution? Given all this, one interesting nonprofit that I stumbled upon has a different solution to solving the world’s nutrition problem, one that might be more in line with “freedom” and “liberty,” or at least America’s version of it. Active Living by Design has the vision to health communities through routine physical activity. They work with communities creating interdisciplinary projects to promote healthy life styles. They have really interesting and complex methodology and I suggest that you go to the site and learn more about them. When we look for solutions to the world’s ails, we must remember that saving the world means improving society. This can only be accomplished by changing culture; so it is imperative to find the culturally appropriate and acceptable solution to change for the better.