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Dissertation project Franziska Kasch (abstract)

The Discourse on Obesity and Its Influence on Everyday Life and Thinking in Contemporary Japan. A Clinical Philosophy Approach

(supervisor: Prof. Dr. Klaus Vollmer)

Currently, there is a discourse in Japan on obesity as the origin of many diseases that will sooner or later lead to death. This discourse is the result of Japanese health politics which demand a healthier population, so that in the early 1970s, the Japanese government started a “Citizen’s Movement for the Creation of Health”. The creation of “health” here addresses healthy Japanese who are now declared as only “half healthy”, as everybody is already at risk of developing diseases according to his or her lifestyle. In health politics it is common to look for risk factors, such as increased blood values, rather than actual diseases, but in 2008 Japan took the next step and enacted measurements against obesity as the one risk factor for all other risk factors. According to the Japanese government, this step is legitimated by medical reasearch on the so-called “metabolic syndrome” which consists of various risk factors possibly including obesity. Although there is still controversy among physicians around the world as to whether obesity is related to this syndrome the Japanese government equates the metabolic syndrome with obesity. Therefore metabo has become synonymous with obesity in Japan.

Since 2008 special health check screenings for metabolic syndrome have been available for every Japanese aged 40 to 74 years. Due to Japan’s strict definition of metabolic syndrome almost everybody will be identified as metabo and will have to undergo health education which aims to correct lifestyle habits in order to avoid diseases or even death. While the government thereby promises an “ageless life”, critics speak of the “cloning of lifestyles” and criticize that the focus on health has been overlooked by measurements of obesity.

However, what do Japanese people think of this discourse on obesity and the governments measurement’s which force them to rethink their own lifestyles and bodies? In order to answer this question my dissertation intends to follow the Clinical Philosophy approach which takes the patient’s perspective of dealing with medical problems and considers their everyday life and way of thinking.