Japan and Obesity

Japanese food conjures up images of fish, rice, miso soup and tofu but recently fitness in the Land of the Rising Sun appears to be deteriorating. Unfortunately, an increasing number of Japanese are adopting unhealthy eating patterns and eating like Sumo wrestlers. The Japanese used to eat food high in protein, but over the past few decades there has been a shift towards eating more animal fat, and western fast food. Experts warn that Japanese children are leading increasingly sedentary lives, and foregoing tofu for burgers and instant noodles.

The Japanese are traditionally known for their restraint: their old adage is Hara Hachi bunme or “stop eating when your’re 80% full” . This restraint has led to it being the country that has had the world’s longest life expectancy: 86 years for women, 79 for men. The new trend of eating could one day jeopardize Japan’s status as the home of the world’s longest-living population. If eating habits change, life expectancy will shorten and this has already been made clear. According to the WHO, globally, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them obese. Obesity and overweight pose a major risk for chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. The key causes are increased consumption of energy-dense foods high in saturated fats and sugars, and reduced physical activity.

While Japanese waistlines have a long way to go before they start to overtaking the Americans: about 24% of people aged 15 and over are considered overweight, compared with 65% in th US, this change in eating patterns has led to an alarming rise in obesity. As the country leaves behind traditional food habits people in all age groups have grown heavier in the past two decades. The highest rate is among men in their 40s: 34 percent were overweight in 2003, up from 23 percent in 1980, according to the National Health and Nutrition Survey. While older women are growing fatter, younger fashion-conscious women tend to be underweight. Among children, 8 percent were obese or at risk of obesity in 2004, compared with fewer than 6 percent in 1980. Diabetes is a leading concern. While the number of deaths from the disease has fallen in the past decade, more than 2 million people are being treated for it — an increase of about 53 percent from 15 years ago.The number treated for high blood pressure has also grown about 9 percent in the past 10 years, the Health Ministry says.

People in the Far East want to get anything American — including all the fast food chains, With their adoption of the Western diet, their plant food intake tends to go down while fat and animal protein intake has gone up.This rise should serve as a wake-up call for Americans and the Japanese to rediscover what helped make Japan lean and healthy in the first place. The Japanese government have released a new nutrition chart recently that encourages eating more carbohydrates — such as rice — and vegetables as main sources of energy, while cutting down on meat to reduce the intake of fat. The chart specifically targets overweight men, singles, and those raising children. The government has set aside about 72 million yen in the 2006-2007 budget to tackle child heft. The Health Ministry also plans to research the link between parents’ lifestyle and overweight children, and support selected towns to promote healthier eating habits.