Fact Check

Is It Illegal to Be Fat in Japan?

A law in Japan requires older citizens to undergo yearly weight exams but does not make it illegal for anyone to be overweight.

Published Jan 1, 2015

A law in Japan makes it illegal for citizens of that country to be fat.
What's True

Japan requires citizens between the ages of 45 and 74 to have their waistlines measured once a year and potentially seek medical attention.

What's False

Japanese citizens can be fined or imprisoned for being overweight.

In January 2008, Japan passed the "Metabo Law" in an effort to curb obesity in that country. While the law does require men and women between the ages of 45 and 74 to have their waistlines examined once a year and potentially seek medical treatment if their measurements fall outside established ranges, it did not establish obesity as a criminal offense.

The Metabo Law was named after metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions, including high blood pressure and excess body fat, that can increase the risk of serious medical ailments:

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Having just one of these conditions doesn't mean you have metabolic syndrome. However, any of these conditions increase your risk of serious disease. If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, your risk is even greater.

If you have metabolic syndrome or any of the components of metabolic syndrome, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.

The New York Times reported in 2008 the Metabo Law affects men with waistlines larger than 35.4 inches and women with waistlines larger than 31.5 inches. People exceeding these governmental limits, which are identical to the measurements established by the International Diabetes Federation in 2006, may be required to go to counseling sessions or converse with a health expert about dietary options. Unlike individuals, however, companies and local governments can be assessed financial penalties if the citizens in their charge do not meet government standards:

To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country's Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.

The ministry also says that curbing widening waistlines will rein in a rapidly aging society's ballooning health care costs, one of the most serious and politically delicate problems facing Japan today.

Opponents of the Metabo Law maintain the weight guidelines are too strict. Japan is one of the least obese developed nations in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Yoichi Ogushi, professor at Tokai University's School of Medicine, has argued the law will not have much of an effect on the health of Japan's citizens:

"I don't think the campaign will have any positive effect. Now if you did this in the United States, there would be benefits, since there are many Americans who weigh more than 100 kilograms [220 pounds]. But the Japanese are so slender that they can't afford to lose weight."


Onishi, Norimitsu.   "Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions."     The New York Times.   13 June 2008.

International Diabetes Federation   "The IDF Consensus Worldwide Definition of the METABOLIC SYNDROME."     2006.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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