Going from Fat Superpower to Fit Superpower

Is there a future for a fat superpower in a world that’s squeezing into skinny jeans? How much moral influence can a nation of fatties exert on slimmer peoples?

Will Hollywood movies lose their appeal as it becomes increasingly apparent that it portrays fantasies of a slim society that doesn’t exist in reality? Will skinny Kpop stars replace the Britneys and Beyonces busting out of their bustiers?

The good news is that the U.S. isn’t the world’s fattest nation. The bad news is that it’s the second fattest, just behind Kiribati, a tiny South Pacific nation of 98,000, and another South Pacific island of 56,000 that happens to be a U.S. territory (American Samoa).

Just over two-thirds of Americans (66.7%) are overweight or downright obese, according to the WHO. Less generous estimates place the U.S. adult overweight population at 78%. About 35% of American adults are considered obese. Obesity is defined as that level of fatness that leads to decreased health and life expectancy.

Our nation’s fat problem costs us $147 billion in added healthcare costs and $73 billion in lost productivity each year.

How much of our economic problems have their origins in a workforce that’s becoming sluggish through underexertion and overeating?

How exemplary is a society that produces people who eat themselves into a state of poor health and lowered productivity?

The larding of America has been going on now for nearly half a century. So far the only collective effort has been regulations by some cities to require restaurants to disclose calories beside menu entries and schools to remove sugary drinks from their vending machines. These are good steps but too small given the accelerating trend toward a slothful population gorging itself to death.

Japan is one of the world’s slimmest nations, with an obesity rate below 5%. Yet in 2008 it passed a law requiring companies to reduce the number of overweight employees by 10 percent by 2012 and 25 percent by 2015 or be required to pay more into a health care program for the elderly.

Now about 56 million Japanese have their waistlines measured each year. The law mandates a maximum waistline for those aged 40 and older: 85 centimeters (33.5 inches) for men and 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) for women. Those who fail the annual waistline check gets sent to counseling. The embarrassment of being singled out like that provides real motivation to employees to do what they know they should have been doing and start losing weight.

How long can an overweight America continue to vie for economic supremacy against nations like China and Korea whose populations have been growing heavier but remain among the world’s least overweight?

Like most sensible people I’m against piling on unnecessary regulations. But some trends are so harmful to society as a whole that they cry out for collective action. The EPA’s gas mileage regulations are an example of regulations that improve the quality of life for everyone on the planet.

It’s time we recognize that without government intervention we Americans will be eating ourselves to the grave, but only after having sent ourselves and our children to the poorhouse and become, literally, the butt of the world.