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Japan's Fat Tax: Is It Illegal to Be Fat in Japan?

Through sensationalized English headlines and poor translations the internet has been perpetuating rumors about what Japan's "Fat Tax" is. It is not illegal to be fat in Japan. People aren’t taxed based on their weight or size. People aren’t denied entry to Japan based on their weight or size. And yet, people still love talking about Japan's “Fat Tax” and the country's “extreme measures to combat obesity”.

Japan Fat Tax obesity illegal

What is Japan’s “Fat Tax”?

Fat Tax is the English term given to the "Metabolic Syndrome Countermeasures Promotion Law” (タボリックシンドローム対策の推進に関する法律), which was introduced in 2008 as a way for companies to support employee health. The law's objective is to reduce the cases of Metabolic Syndrome in the workforce, and in turn, lower rates in society as a whole.

Japan treats obesity as a medical condition; Like other diseases, there is a list of criteria one needs to meet to be considered medically obese/have Metabolic Syndrome (including waist circumference, high blood pressure, blood sugar, and lipids). People with Metabolic syndrome have obesity.

How The "Law" Actually Works:

If an employee has Metabolic Syndrome and is over 40 years old, their employer is required to provide resources to them to help improve their health. The employee is then given a generous timeframe to reduce their weight using those resources. At no point is the individual ever required to pay a tax or fine, and there aren’t any other legal repercussions.

However, if the company is found to have not provided adequate resources, it can be held responsible and can be fined.

While the word "law" is used in English, it is not meant as a legal term. Being overweight or employing those who are overweight is not illegal.

Who It Affects:

  • It only applies employees of certain companies.

  • It only applies to employees over 40 years old

  • It only applies if the employee meets the conditions of Metabolic Syndrome

The “Fat Tax” is NOT a tax on the individual or the employer. “Fat Tax” is a poor translation of what the program really is or how it’s implemented.

It is NOT illegal to be fat in Japan.

An employee cannot be legally terminated from their position due to having a Metabolic Syndrome - unless it impacts their job function (even after reasonable accommodations have been made). Even then, unless it’s an extreme case it’s rare for an employee to be terminated rightfully as a result of their weight.

Japanese nurse

Annual Health Checks:

Before the “Fat Tax”, Japan had already implemented an annual employee health check. Many large companies are required to have ALL of their employees undergo an annual health check conducted at a local hospital. These health checkups test various things such as vision, bloodwork, BMI, and TB testing, among other things. A more in-depth test can be requested by the employee if desired.

After the test, the individual is given a summary of their health and an overall grade. Japan has very different rules and regulations around the privacy of information in regards to employee health: As an employee, the result of your health test is shared with your employer.

If a company is required by law to have their employees undergo annual health checks, they must report the results to health officials.

Misinformation Around the "Fat Tax"

It’s troubling to see Japan’s “Fat Tax” misinformation being used as ammo for those in pro-anorexia, fitness/health and anti body-positivity groups. Because the idea of fat people being taxed fits these groups' ideal narratives, few put in the research before spreading the lies further. It does not help that trusted English news sources and websites have also misreported on the Fat Tax throughout the years.

It brings up flashbacks of the early 2000s “Islam is illegal in Japan” misinformation that continues to spread today. Despite readily available information proving otherwise (including a tourism campaign by the Japanese government geared towards the Muslim community, and the fact that Japan has over 100 mosques), people still cherrypick information to fit their own agendas.

The Metabo Law, or “Fat Tax” is one of many initiatives Japan has implemented to improve people's health. While its effectiveness is debatable, it's a testament to how highly Japan prioritizes health and physical health care. It's just unfortunate that a unique solution to a public health issue has been reduced to a misinformed echo of "it's illegal to be fat in Japan".


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