Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are You Metabo?

Metabo is a phrase one now hears often in Japan: "Do you have Metabo?" "Are you Metabo?" Metabo is a Japanese shortened form of Metabolic syndrome. Technically, the term encompasses a constellation of factors, most easily described as fat around internal organs. But to put it more bluntly, if you have it, it means you're fat. I only learned the history and science behind this phrase researching this post. The issue is well covered in a New York Times article which describes a new policy whereby the Japanese government has legistated the measuring of everyone's waists between the ages of 40 and 74. The limits were set - 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women - by the Japanese Diabtic Association. It was approved solely on economic grounds; a slim population is a healthy one, thus reducing healthcare costs. I guess one must just fight on until they are 75 before you can really let yourself go. What exact mechanisms are available to governments to force citizens to closely control their weight? The policy includes previsions, amoung others, that penalize firms whose employees don't lose a certian percentage of weight. Quite amazing really, but not out of line with what I know about Japan employers.

In looking at the empiric evidence, it's just as fuzz as any other time one tries to find consensus in the scientific community. And while it's not so cut-and-dry that these sorts of policies save lives, they will almost certainly save money, which is why the government felt okay to move ahead with what is a pretty radical suggestion. (Incidentally, everyone on the panel agreed a beer belly is ugly.) I can only really speak to the male side of the equation, from which I understand that male belly fat is (metabolically and hormonally) active tissue. This is a curse. It means one's belly fat basically has a mind of its own; it gets hungry, it wants to stay. However, I totally throw my support behind methods that measure total body fat - which is what a tape-measuring method, in rough form, is capturing - than pure weight. I'm not an expert in the field, but its clear enough to me that BF% is a far better indicator of overall life-expectancy and health, furthermore, in an effort to be transparent, I agree with it enough not to even own a scale. (But in an effort to be even more transparent, I must admit it's not really a big concern in my life at this point anyway.)

So suddenly everyone in Japan is looking down at their stomach. Far from having a benign affect, it seems to have given everyone a complex, and I believe this is where the term Metabo actually fits in. It's been written that the term obesity has negitive and exclusive conotations, while the term Metabo is more inclusitive. The myrid of publications sprouting up to deal with the issue portray it as never the fault of the person, as if personal chocies had nothing to do with it. Though I must admit, the shift in perception does seem to give people the feeling they can be cured, and that something can be done about it, which I guess is key it in the first place to taking back your life.

[The photo accompanying this post is popularily assoicted with this term. It's a poster from a company informing employees of the new policy.]

No comments: