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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wellness and Waist Size Screening in Japan

Some very interesting, controversial news from abroad: Thanks to a two-month-old law that’s aimed at reducing the number of overweight citizens—and cutting health care costs—Japanese companies and local governments are now required to measure the waistlines of people from age 40 to 74 as part of their annual medical checkups.

What happens to workers who don’t meet the government limits of [brace yourself] 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which critics content are much too strict?

Well, those folks will be given three months to drop weight before they’re provided with diet advice; if they’re still unsuccessful after six months, the intervention will be repeated.

Oh, and the government plans to impose fines on companies and local governments that don’t meet certain goals, like having 10 percent of overweight employees slim down by 2012 and 25 percent by 2015. That could translate to millions of dollars in penalties for large corporations.

While it’s hard to imagine this type of Big Brother-esque initiative taking hold in the US, it does raise some important issues for employee wellness.

For one thing, as Tara Parker Pope points out in her blog for the New York Times: “While the Japanese plan seems onerous, it’s not without scientific basis. Studies clearly show a person’s health risks increase as waist size grows.”

She goes on to cite a March analysis in The Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, which found that waist size is a much better means than body mass index to determine who is at a higher risk for hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol.

Some specific figures about your figure:

“Studies suggest that health risks begin to increase when a woman’s waist reaches 31.5 inches, and her risk jumps substantially once her waist expands to 35 inches or more. For a man, risk starts to climb at 37 inches, but it becomes a bigger worry once his waist reaches or exceeds 40 inches… Put simply, your waist should be less than half your height.”

While we can’t start whipping out tape measures at the office, we can pass along this information about waist size to employees as part of wellness education efforts.

And why not offer waist size measurements at wellness fairs? It’s something we’ve done at Wellness Corporate Solutions. We’ve found it’s a great way to raise awareness, and encourage participation in healthy eating and exercise plans.

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