Does America Need a “National Diet?”

Posted on

In Japan they have a big, ugly, imposing government building — as most of these buildings tend to be — called the National Diet Building. This building is not home to some special “Diet Ministry,” it houses the Japanese legislature, but seeing it in a recent Tweet by @MarketUrbanism reminded me of the several months I spent in Japan. During that time, I was astounded by many aspects of Japanese culture, the kindness, the uniformity, the overall sense that this country was one big well-oiled machine, and finally, by their overall slimness and youthful appearance.

The people of Japan are arguably the healthiest in the world, and rather in-arguably the people with the longest lifespans and the slimmest waistlines.

National Diet Building of Japan (Photo, Wiii)

National Diet Building of Japan (Photo by Wiii, CC BY-SA)

In America, we don’t have a big, ugly, imposing “Diet” building, but we do have a government that handed out about $57 billion in subsidies to corn growers over the past 10 years. I make this point not because corn is making us fat, but because the majority of these subsidies helped farmers grow ‘inedible’ corn used to produce cattle feed and the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that ends up in just about every sweetened food product imaginable.

So indirectly yes, corn is helping to make us fat, and as a result of our eating habits — specifically our HFCS and sugar intake — we are the most obese developed nation in the world with 68% of Americans overweight or obese, and our lifespans are one of the shortest.

To be fair, many factors go into maintaining a healthy population, and Japan has genes, strong tradition and an anti-fat law on their side. But while Americans may never be as slim as Japan, we certainly weren’t always this obese, either.

According to Dr. Robert H. Lustig of UCSF Medical Center in his epic 90-minute lecture Sugar, The Bitter Truth, it was only since that magical, cheap, highly-available HFCS (invented by the Japanese, interestingly enough) was brought to market, that our bellies started to grow, and our cases of diabetes started to skyrocket.

Japan invented the stuff, but steered clear of it for the most part, while America embraced it. While many are on a warpath against HFCS, according to Lustig it is used by our bodies in exactly the same way as sugar, which is to say it is ‘equally as bad’ as sugar. He asserts that the only real evil of HFCS is that it is so amazingly cheap, it has begun to appear in everything we eat, from hamburgers to fruit juice.

There is obviously a need to reverse our eating trends and our massive sugar/HFCS intakes, and for decades the U.S. government has unfortunately been attacking the issue with varying amounts of misinformation (eg: one cup of fruit juice does NOT equal one serving of fruit as I learned in grade school.)  One wonders if more strict government policies such as those in Japan might be our only way out of this seemingly unstoppable  indulgence.  Admittedly though, our government has to first understand the problem, and with that I wish them much insight, diligence, and luck.

Perhaps they could just build a National Diet Building?

More Research on this Topic:
Life Expectancy – Google Public Data Explorer
Health and Obesity Statistics – Nation Master
Obesity in Japan – Liberation Wellness
Corn Subsidies – Environmental Working Group
American Corn Refiners’ Association Website
Overweight and Obese Facts – CDC