The Childhood Obesity Talk, Part 3


Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News continued looking at various aspects of “The Talk” — the one that parents sometimes need to have with their kids, about maintaining a healthy weight — and the concept of “fat letters” sent home by schools that are concerned about the unacceptable rates of overweight and obesity.

Now, to take a slight left turn, a very interesting article by David Berreby in Aeon Magazine includes this factoid:

Since 2008, Japanese law requires companies to measure and report the waist circumference of all employees between the ages of 40 and 74 so that, among other things, anyone over the recommended girth can receive an email of admonition and advice.

This is the grownup version of both “The Talk” and “The Fat Letter,” compounded into one humiliating bundle. Instead of parents or teachers, employees are getting it from their bosses. That is, in some ways, alarming. It also arouses curiosity. If Japan’s government and corporate world are both so strict toward adults, what on earth are they doing to the kids? Something right, apparently. Check this out:

Japan’s childhood obesity rate has fallen for the last six years and is one of the lowest in the world.

Another source says “the lowest in the developed world.” And furthermore, the kids are looking at a life expectancy of 83, which makes the Japanese the world champions of longevity. The youth of Japan seem happy with what they are doing, which is making their own school lunches from scratch, with fresh ingredients according to the season.

Max Fisher says the kids:

[…] get identical meals, and if they leave food untouched, they are out of luck: Their schools have no vending machines. Barring dietary restrictions, children in most districts can’t bring food to school, either, until they reach high school.

Also, the government has strongly encouraged walking to school since 1953, and really puts quite a bit of thought and effort into making this a safe practice.

The Bigger Picture

In its efforts to get everyone to slim down, a government could engineer a massive food shortage, which might kill a lot of people. But, of the ones it doesn’t kill, a certain number would be pregnant women. Being fetuses in a time of famine causes the new generation of babies to grow up into obese adults. Programmed in the womb to regard the world as a place that is stingy with the nutrition, they will consequently eat as much as they can get. So, the end result would be exactly the opposite of what was intended — instead of a thinner population, there would be a fatter population.

A government wouldn’t do that to its own people, would it? But wait, Stalin did. His motives were different, but one of the interesting aspects of any debate over how much control the government should exert is that it would take a Stalin to successfully micro-manage the daily diets of millions of people.

Where is the evidence for this programmed-in-the-womb theory, you may ask? Berreby provides it, straight from the pages of history and retrospect. This hongerwinter atrocity was Hitler’s doing:

The 40,000 babies gestated during Holland’s ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944-1945 grew up to have more obesity, more diabetes and more heart trouble than their compatriots who developed without the influence of war-induced starvation.

Though Berreby sees the civil liberties issues involved in official obesity monitoring and control, he certainly acknowledges the need for somebody to do something:

Faced with signs of a massive public-health crisis in the making, governments are right to seek to do something, using the best information that science can render, in the full knowledge that science will have different information to offer in 10 or 20 years.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Obesity Era,” Aeon Magazine, 06/19/13
Source: “How Japan’s revolutionary school lunches helped slow the rise of child obesity,” The Washington Post, 01/28/13
Image by Caitlin Childs.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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