The United States is not alone with rising rates of obesity. According to the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Asia is in the “throes of an obesity epidemic.” Asian governments are responding promptly. For example:
In Japan, where 27 million people suffer from or are at risk of obesity-related conditions, such as diabeties and high blood pressure, healthcare costs are projected to double by 2020. In response, the government recently instituted a policy of mandatory “fat checks” for citizens older than 40. Japanese workers with waistlines greater than 34 inches are to be put on special exercise programs, and companies that fail to meet weight-loss targets will face stiff government fines. In China, where 15 percent of children are overweight, the Ministry of Education last year unveiled a series of specially designed weight-loss dances that students are required to perform in school. And in India, the call-center industry is experienceing a spike in conditions such as diabetes and heart disease due to lack of exercise, leading the health minister to pressure companies to enforce a set of health guidelines for their sedentary workers.
In the U.S., obese people are not a recognized minority protected from discrimination under Title VII. So far, one federal circuit court has held that obesity does not constitute a disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. I cannot imagine Congress passing a law requiring U.S. employers to enforce weight limits, but I can imagine employers firing obese employees for a number of reasons related to risk and expense.
American office employees lackadaisically participating in jumping jacks led by their team leader is sit-com material. The rigid regimen that Asian workers live with at work is culturally a million miles away from the American worker’s experience.
Here Chinese Workers Line Up at the Factory
Chinese workers in chicken factory
Photographs by Edward Burtynsky