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The Five Weirdest Ways That Countries Combat Obesity

As Judith Shulevitz reports in her latest Phenomenology column in The New Republic, our intense focus on weight loss often overlooks the importance of treating the chronic disease of obesity. Americans usually try to lose weight by exercising, dieting, popping pills, or even turning to surgery. But here are five much weirder ways that countries around the world try to combat obesity—including one far-out method made by a U.S. company.

1. Japan: Mandating maximum waistlines

Japan has turned to legal tactics to maintain the country’s relatively low obesity rate of 3.5 percent. The "metabo law" of 2008 mandates a maximum waistline for adults of 35.4 inches for women and 33.5 inches for men aged 40-74. Those whose waistlines stray outside the law are required to attend counseling and support sessions, and local governments and companies that don't meet specific targets are fined.

2. Dubai: Paying people to lose weight

On July 19, Dubai’s government launched a program offering financial incentive to lose weight: Participants who shed two or more kilograms by the Eid on August 16, the end of Ramadan, will be rewarded with the equivalent number of grams in gold. The three contestants who lose the most weight will also receive a gold coin worth 20,000 dirhams, the equivalent of around $5,500.

3. New Zealand: Banning overweight immigrants

With one in four New Zealand adults qualifying as obese, the country has begun denying entry to those with too much, er, baggage. Visa guidelines require applicants to undergo a health examination and, according to the country’s immigration website, “People with a high BMI (over 35) are not likely to meet health policy due to the long term health risks associated with obesity.” According to New Zealand’s Fight the Obesity Epidemic, the rules were put in place because the country cannot afford to cover the possible health care costs that come with admitting overweight immigrants. 

4. China: Sticking needles in people

For centuries, the Chinese have used acupuncture to fight obesity, and a study commissioned by the Hong Kong Hospital Authority found that it actually works. According to researchers, acupressure points in the ears and legs target the stomach and spleen, helping with weight loss.

5. America: Sucking food out of stomachs

It's called aspiration therapy, but it's basically a personal stomach pump. A tube is surgically implanted in the stomach and connected to a "skin port" on the abdomen, allowing patients at home to pump out 30 percent of consumed food before it's digested. AspireAssist is available in Europe and undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. 


Several images via Shutterstock.