Column Date 2009-04-13

The medical police are coming

If you're overweight, be warned. The medical police are coming to get you.

They started in Japan, last summer.

Japan has 1) lots of older people, and 2) rising medical costs.

To hold these costs down, they recently passed a law requiring that everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 have their waistlines measured. Seriously.

Once a year, 56 million Japanese are required to have a doctor put a tape measure round their waists. 

If a man's waist measures more than 33 ½ inches, he's in trouble. (For some inscrutable reason, Japanese women are allowed waists of 35.4 inches, in case you were wondering.)

An oversized waist, coupled with any sort of 'weight-related' ailment, means that you will be given dieting guidance for three months.

If there's no improvement, you will then undergo what they call mandatory "re-education" – a word that carries sinister implications of Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese cultural revolution.

And the Japanese government isn't joking around – if the country does not achieve specific "waist reduction" goals, there will be severe financial penalties on both local governments and businesses.

Since almost every country in the western world has aging populations and rising medical costs, I think it's only a matter of time until the 'weight police' idea catches on.

And what fertile ground they'll find over here -- with 1/3 of the US population overweight, and another 1/3 clinically obese!

Once an idea like this catches hold, there's no telling what will happen next.

In fact, rumor has it that some U.S. airlines are already considering a new kind of fare structure. When you buy a ticket, it entitles you to bring 250 pounds on board the aircraft.

That means 250 pounds total – your weight plus your baggage.

If you weigh 170 pounds, say, and your bags weigh 65 pounds, no problem. Your total is 235 pounds, 15 pounds under the limit – which will actually entitle you to a small refund!

If you tip the scales at 275 pounds, however, and your baggage weighs another 75 pounds, you'll pay a hefty surcharge for the airline to fly that extra 100 pounds to your destination.

Don't get me wrong: we live in a free country. And I firmly believe that every American has an inalienable right to have a 46-inch waist and eat like a horse.

And it doesn't bother me, as long as his extra weight doesn't jack up the price of my airline ticket.

Come to think of it, maybe the Japanese are onto something.

(By the way, do you get as nervous as I do when you see those elevator warning signs that say "Limit: 10 people. Average weight per passenger 150 lbs."?)

©2009 Peter Tannen