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Western Countries Waging War on Obesity

Posted May. 28, 2008 03:57,   


Obesity is a rising problem in Western countries, causing illnesses ranging from hypertension and diabetes to mental disorders. Governments, companies and schools have stepped in to curb the scourge of growing weight.

According to a report released in September 2006 by the World Health Organization on people over age 15 worldwide, some 400 million were considered obese and 1.6 billion overweight. The world body deems those with a body mass index of 25 or more as overweight, and those with a figure of 30 or more as obese.

Countries with advanced economies such as the United States and European nations are grappling with a growing number of obese children.

▽ Fat staff pose risk to Japanese companies

Japanese firms classify “metabo workers,” or obese staff, as a risk to corporate prospects and have started tackling the matter, according to the weekly magazine Aera.

In April, the Japanese government made weight check-ups mandatory for staff between the ages of 40 and 74 who have health insurance and their dependants. Larger companies such as Toyota and NEC have required employees in their 30s to get checkups.

Sony has installed an automated system in its cafeteria that informs employees of caloric intake when they pay for a meal. Other companies such as Sunstar send obese workers to diet schools to go on low-calorie diets and exercise.

In the past, Japanese management valued fatter employees in the belief that they had gained weight working overtime and dining with colleagues after work. With the number of employees taking time off for obesity-induced ailments rising, however, obese workers are burdening Japanese companies, Aera said.

▽ U.S. schools struggle to reduce caloric intake

With a third of American children overweight, the United States is waging war against child obesity. Parents blame school vending machines selling instant food and fast-food chains as the main culprits.

To cope with the problem, more school cafeterias are offering whole foods to rein in excessive fat intake, according to the Washington Post. In a school in Washington, students launched a boycott and urged school authorities to provide healthy food at their cafeteria.

State governments are also pushing for reinforcing nutritional standards at schools and increasing time for physical education classes. Churches and civic organizations are campaigning to restrain reckless marketing by processed food manufacturers and lecturing on a proper diet.

The instant food and fast-food industries are opposed to the measures, however, citing violation of free market principles. Arkansas has made BMI testing compulsory, but some parents say such testing can hurt student self-esteem.

▽ Europe’s anti-obesity approach

In Europe, governments have stepped up to the plate to tackle obesity.

From 2005 in France, vending machines were banned in schools and food manufacturers were required to insert warnings against obesity in TV commercials. These efforts made France the only country in the European Union to see the number of obese children decline, according to Medical News Today, citing a study released by the European Commission.

The proportion of French students categorized as obese fell from 3.8 percent in 2000 to three percent last year. That of students categorized as overweight fell from 18.1 percent to 15.8 percent over the same period.

Taking a cue from France, the United Kingdom has prohibited TV broadcasts from airing food commercials and banned the sale of snacks and soft drinks in school, said the Washington Post. U.K. schools must also provide 85 percent of students with at least two hours of gym class every week, and the required time will expand to five hours in 2011.

In Spain, the government has agreed with processed food manufacturers to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their products and enhance rules on ingredient labeling.