Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Japan's Preventative Medicine and Social Ills

With an aging population of "over 60s" making up 21.5% of the nation, and more high fat Western restaurants like McDonalds popping up, Japan's health care costs are growing and it's taking steps to trim it. There are some things about Japan's health philosophy that are good, and other things that may be seen as warnings.

For years there have been many reports of Japanese work place employee exercise time. Often there is a group exercise at the very work site, like next to a desk. Now that is getting much more focused national attention and an already slim population, compared to us, are being encouraged to trim more.

Fitness programs at Japanese companies save on medical costs ... by preventing illnesses. And now they are getting strengthened with legislation that adds financial incentives for companies to have healthier workers.

Many corporations have lunchtime aerobics sessions and cafeterias with low-calorie food, are handing out free pedometers and taking other measures to fight the latest imported buzzword: "metaboh," short for "metabolic syndrome" - the cluster of symptoms linked with obesity, high cholesterol and blood sugar, large waistlines and risks of heart disease. (source: AP)

That's the good part of Japan's preventative medicine initiative, and they can offer some lessons to us in that way.

On the other hand, the most recent government supported employee health program would not go over very well here, certainly not very quickly.
The government initiative, which kicked in April 1, requires companies to have workers aged 40 to 74 take up the battle of the bulge by requiring waist measurements at health checkups ..

Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which are identical to thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation as an easy guideline for identifying health risks — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months. (source: NY Times)

The dieting guidance and nutrition education is definitely good, though it's hard to imagine an employer approaching you with a measuring tape to get your circumference. But it is an extension of the fit for work mentality in Japan.

While Japan has made itself an economic powerhouse with it's emphasis on work devotion, it is negative in other ways. Many workers' time are so consumed with the demands of work that eating quick, more fattening meals at the desk is common. In addition, those who are chubby, may get labelled a "metaboh", short for metabolic syndrone, and lose respect from co-workers.

Preventative medicine good, sensei, but workaholic corporate culture may be connected to more problems outside the work place as well.

Being a valued productive and contributing worker is so very important for the Japanese culture, but sadly, there is also a record high suicide rate among Japanese elderly. The rate jumped by 9% last year (over 33,000), with health and economic worries being the main reasons. This AP writer reported that economic and health problems were closely related.

In a report by the National Police Agency, depression alone was believed to cause nearly 20 percent of Japan's suicides last year. That is so very sad. Could there be that much time and concentration with work that there is a lesser and lesser amount of personal time spent with seniors? If so, then that is very lonely for them. People of all ages need to feel worthwhile, that's why we want to live.

Perhaps the time is right for international sharing of health ideas, and perhaps a definition of balance.

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