If you're worried about what Obamacare will mean for you, this should scare you. In Japan — already the slimmest industrialized nation on the planet — people are being forced to comply with a government-imposed waistline standard.
Japanese lawmakers have set a maximum waistline size for anyone over age 40 - 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women.
In the United States, the Senate and House health care reform bills have included the so-called “Safeway Amendment,” which would offer reductions in insurance premiums to people who lead fitter lives. The experience in Japan offers lessons in how complicated it is to legislate good health.
Though Japan’s “metabo law” aims to save money by heading off health risks related to obesity, there is no proof that it actually will.
Under Japan’s health care coverage, companies administer check-ups to employees once a year. Those who fail to meet the waistline requirement must undergo counseling. If companies do not reduce the number of overweight employees by 10 percent in 2012 and 25 percent by 2015, they could be required to pay more money into a health care program for the elderly. An estimated 56 million Japanese will have their waists measured this year.
Never mind that Japan has some of the world’s lowest rates of obesity — less than 5 percent, compared to nearly 35 percent for the United States.
Meanwhile, a number of US companies — especially hospitals and medical businesses — are adopting strict policies making smoking a reason to turn away job applicants. The rationale is increasing worker productivity, and reducing health care costs by encouraging healthier living. Federal estimates say employees who smoke, cost on average, $3,391 more a year each for health care and lost productivity. About 1 in 5 Americans still smoke, and smoking remains the leading cause of preventable deaths.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the confrontational Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 1.2 million health care workers, said the issue isn’t on its radar — yet.
The new rules essentially treat cigarettes as an illegal narcotic, and job seekers must submit to urine tests for nicotine, as well as other drugs.
This shift — from smoke-free to smoker-free workplaces — brings up an interesting question about whether the policies establish a troubling precedent of employers intruding into employees’ private lives to ban a legal habit. What’s next — urine testing for cheeseburgers?