Weighing Japanese food
Shizuo Kambayashi  /  AP
A Japanese businessman looks at samples of a lunch menu in front of a restaurant as another man walks by speaking on his mobile in Tokyo this week. Now a system lets the calorie-conscious phone in their eating habits.
By Brian Tracey Associate editor

Wondering how much of a diet-buster that big bowl of noodles is?

In the United States, some restaurants could give you a calorie count. In Japan, you might take a picture of it with your cell phone and ask an expert.

Cell phones are ubiquitous in Japan, where concern is rising over expanding waistlines. Now health care providers have put two and two together to help the weight-conscious send photos of their meals to nutritionists for analysis.

Public health insurance offices in the Osaka region of western Japan have launched the trial service, with about 100 heart patients signed up in the first year, followed by diabetes and obesity patients in the second.

“Japanese have been getting fatter, especially men in their 20s and 30s, and there is concern over what they learned about nutrition when they were younger,” Osaka official Satomi Onishi said. “We’re hoping that this program can help us to get a handle on the problem.”

Osaka is using a system developed by Asahi Kasei Corp., a Tokyo-based chemical and medical equipment manufacturer. The system is operating at about 150 health care providers and local governments around the country, company official Naoki Yoshimura said.

“Cell phones are everywhere here,” Onishi said. “We’re hoping they can now make it easier for people to get help improving their diet.”

Unfortuantely, the system has one small drawback: Dieters have to wait three days to find out how much damage they did by eating the meal they just photographed.

Note to cell-phone makers: We could really use that time-machine button now.

Not-so-bad ideas

  • Attention burger flippers — McDonald's has your back. The fast-food giant is circulating a petition to get the dictionary definition of a "McJob" changed.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a McJob as "an unstimulating low-paid job with few prospects."

But McDonald's says this definition is now "out of date and insulting," according to the BBC.

The company claims a survey found that 69 percent of those polled in the U.K. agreed it needs updating.

"The current definition is extremely insulting to the 67,000 people who work for us within the U.K." said McDonald's senior vice president David Fairhurst. "It is also insulting for everyone else who works in the wider restaurant and tourism sectors. It is time for us now to make a stand and get the Oxford English Dictionary to change the definition."

But to paraphrase Britain's own William Shakespeare: Mickey Dee's doth protest too much, we think.

  • Call this a bad ad gone wild: Spanish airline Iberia canceled an advertisement after complaints it was sexist. The ad showed Cuban women in bikinis bottle-feeding a baby tourist as he sings "feed me mulattas ... come on little mamas, take me to my cot."

A consumer rights group demanded Iberia, Spain's national flag carrier, pull the ad for online sales as it was offensive to Cuban women and could encourage sex tourism.

The animated cartoon shows young Cuban women driving the baby to the beach, dancing for him and massaging him after he is transported to the Caribbean island via the Iberia Web site.

"It's sexist — Cubans could find it offensive," said Ruben Sanchez, a spokesman for the Facua consumer rights group.

Iberia said it had not meant to offend anyone with the advertisement and removed it earlier this month after the complaint.

"It was completely trivial," said a spokeswoman of the ad.

Not to mention completely tasteless as well.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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