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Forget The Party Line, Watch Your Waistline: Russia May Consider Girth Limits 

According to media reports, Russia's Health Ministry warned in 2017 that 2 million Russians were suffering from obesity. (file photo)
According to media reports, Russia's Health Ministry warned in 2017 that 2 million Russians were suffering from obesity. (file photo)

Big Brother is watching your weight.

Well, not yet. But Russia's health minister has suggested the state may consider regulating the waistlines of its citizens -- and meting out punishment when their girth gets too great.

The belt-tightening may not be coming soon -- no regulations have been proposed as yet.

But senior officials are under orders from President Vladimir Putin to make Russia healthier, and several seem intrigued by a Japanese law setting size limits for the waistlines of men and women aged 40 to 74.

"We're studying the examples of other countries that have been able to achieve serious results" in terms of national health and life expectancy, said Anna Popova, head of the state consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor.

In an interview published by state news agency RIA Novosti on February 14, Popova pointed in particular to Japan's 2008 "Metabo Law" -- legislation requiring companies and local governments to measure the waistlines of employees and residents in that age range every year.

According to The New York Times, the law set waist-measurement limits of about 85 centimeters for men and 90 centimeters for women.

People exceeding those limits and suffering from weight-related ailments could face mandatory counseling if they did not lose weight, the Times report said, and companies and local governments faced financial penalties if they fell short of targets set by the state.

Anna Popova is the chairwoman of Russia's consumer protection agency. (file photo)
Anna Popova is the chairwoman of Russia's consumer protection agency. (file photo)

Popova suggested it was unclear how well such rules might work in Russia, where the state has tightened restrictions on public activity such as demonstrations since Putin came to power, but where many citizens see their private lives as a realm in which the government should not interfere.

"To what degree [foreign practices] are acceptable for Russia and for Russian citizens is a question that we will discuss," she said, indicating that the issue would be considered as the authorities look for ways to fulfill decrees from Putin that set out policy goals on issues such as public health.

A senior Health Ministry official, Sergei Boitsov, warned in March 2018 that Russia faces a "menacing challenge" from obesity, saying that levels among men tripled from 2003 to 2013 and were not improving.

According to Russian media reports, the ministry said that 2 million Russians, or 1.3 percent, were suffering from obesity in 2017, up from 1.4 million in 2016, and that part of the reason was an improvement in diagnostics.

A 2017 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicated that obesity levels in Russia were roughly half as high as those in the United States.

Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova (file photo)
Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova (file photo)

Asked about the possibility of a waistline limits, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told the Interfax news agency on February 18 that specific ideas such this have not yet been talked about but added: "We will certainly discuss them."

Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999, has frequently stressed a desire to permanently reverse Russia's post-Soviet demographic decline and prove those who predict the population will dwindle further in the coming decades wrong.

Those aims suffered a setback when Russia's population fell sharply in the first nine months of 2018, leaving it on track for the first overall decline in years as deaths continued to outstrip births and immigration failed to fill the gap.

With reporting by RIA-Novosti, Interfax,, RT, and The New York Times
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    Steve Gutterman

    Steve Gutterman is the editor of the Russia/Ukraine/Belarus Desk in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom in Prague and the author of The Week In Russia newsletter. He lived and worked in Russia and the former Soviet Union for nearly 20 years between 1989 and 2014, including postings in Moscow with the AP and Reuters. He has also reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as other parts of Asia, Europe, and the United States.