Want Healthier Kids? Take a Lesson from The Japanese

Susanna Sisson's picture
Healthy Children

It’s well known that people from Japan live longer with fewer health issues. Okinawan people have long been studied to understand why they have longer life expectancies. Japan is considered a blue zone and like people in other areas of the world who live longer and without the diseases that plague Americans, they have certain health practices that ensure better health. According to a recent study, the Japanese people have the longest life expectancy on the planet while Americans aren’t even in the top 10. [1]


Japanese children eat more whole foods that are nutrient dense and low in calories like brown rice, miso soup, vegetables including seaweed, and fish. On average they eat 25 percent fewer calories than American children or about 200 calories less per day. They also eat smaller servings and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Family style meals are an important part of their culture and people do not eat on the run or indulge in drive thru fast food. Japanese children do have snacks and treats, but they learn to balance meals including desserts and eat in moderation. They eat more fruit and vegetables, less sugar and almost no processed foods. They also eat less meat and dairy. Children commonly eat sushi, a combination of rice, vegetables and seaweed. However, Japanese people have had to turn to sources other than seaweed harvested from Japan since the Fukushima accident and that area has seen a rise in rates of obesity. [7] Despite having to turn to importation, brown seaweed remains a staple of the Japanese diet and is considered a superfood by scientists. Researchers around the globe are studying one particular component of brown seaweed, fucoidan, for its amazing health benefits, everything from weight management, decreased inflammation and better immune function to lowering cancer rates. [2][3]

Another factor in lower obesity rates and better health - Japanese children and adults walk more than people in Western countries. In 1953, the Japanese government implemented a “walk to school” program to encourage physical activity and minimize obesity, so children primarily walk or cycle to school to increase physical activity. Only 3.5 percent of the Japanese population is obese as opposed to 30 percent obesity in the U.S according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). [4][5]


Another incentive to prevent obesity in Japan is the “Metabo Law” which was passed in 2008 to try to prevent metabolic syndrome (MS). Think of it as early intervention. People who show signs of the syndrome or other weight related illnesses are asked to attend classes on nutrition. If the individuals don’t attend classes, and pass the course, the companies that employ them or the local government where they live are subject to being fined. While not a fan of government stepping in, we already have similar penalties in the U.S. and while education is admirable placing blame on people who may have underlying health problems borders on discrimination. [6]

Nevertheless there is something to be said for healthy diet and more exercise. We all want our children to be healthier and can all learn a valuable lesson from the Japanese equation of eat less, move more.

1. http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)61340-X.pdf
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210604/
3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=fucoidan
4. http://www.ibtimes.com/japan-has-many-problems-obesity-isnt-one-them-1038090
5. http://www.who.int/kobe_centre/interventions/urban_planning/HUP_Walking-to-school/en/
6. http://observer.com/2015/09/unwell-how-the-affordable-care-act-lets-companies-punish-fat-employees/
7. http://www.ibtimes.com/japan-has-many-problems-obesity-isnt-one-them-1038090

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