Article review on obesity in Japan

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A study by Kanazawa et al (2002) examined obesity rates in Japan and the existing methodology to determine the obesity rates according to the BMI criteria. The purpose(s) of the study was to see how Japan scored on the BMI scale and what differences it had with other nations in the region and with the comparative figures around the world. The study relates to the body of literature cited in the article directly, as it explores the overweight and obesity rates in Japan, the culture-specific reasons for obesity and the factors that influence obesity in Japan, in addition to making prognosis for the growing obesity trends in the future (Kanazawa et al 2002).


Kanazawa et al (2002) focused on the information collected in 1997 by the WHO, when it initiated the formation of the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF). It was during the period when the Task Force proposed the cut-offs for overweight and obesity as BMI 25 and BMI 30. The nation-wide research, in which the researchers accept the criteria of BMI ≥ 30 to indicate obesity, showed that the prevalence of obesity in Japan of less than 3% has changed little during the last 40 years (Kanazawa et al 2002). The participants were the same that researched by the WHO. The interventions or measurements used in the study suggest that the researchers measured the weight and height of the participants in mobile measurement centers and recorded the information to determine the BMI. The independent variable involved eating habits, the number of calories consumed and the frequency of food consumption, and dependent variable was the BMI and the obesity-related diseases such as hypertension, heart diseases and diabetes.

The important statistical findings of Kanazawa et al (2002) suggest that people in Japan consume less food and ingest fewer calories than people in the USA. If BMI of 30 was used to show obesity than there are less than 4% of obese people in Japan (Kanazawa et al 2002). It is for this reason JASSO decided to define BMI ≥ 25 as obesity, something that shows “overweight” according to American standards. The Japanese also consume less fat than Americans. Furthermore, the food prices are much higher in Japan than in the USA, so the invisible hand of the free market economy makes the Japanese to buy less food and thus consume less food and be less likely to gain weight (Kanazawa et al 2002). Western culture and food consumption lifestyle affected the Japanese, too, so obesity rates increased four times in men and three times in women during these last 40 years (Kanazawa et al 2002). Also, just like in the USA the inactivity can be viewed as one of the reasons for growing obesity rates in Japan, even though they are still among the lowest obesity rates in the world and the lowest in the developed world (Kanazawa et al 2002).
The findings of the Kanazawa et al (2002) study suggested that the analysis of obesity and excessive weight gets down to simple physics. If the person takes more calories than she/he spends, that person will sooner or later will become obese or overweight. Thus the comparison of obesity rates between the USA and Japan is about comparing how people in these countries acquire calories (eating habits) and how these people spend calories (lifestyle, physical activity) (Kanazawa et al 2002). The person spends calories through both the metabolism and physical activity and for every 3500 calories a person consumes in excess of a daily recommended amount she/he can expect to gain around 1lb. Likewise, if the person burn 3500 calories, it means that the person will lose approximately 1 lb.


The findings compared with previous studies and show that the Japanese have special diet culture that encourages consumption of fish, vegetables and rice, the very foods that can help to lose weight or to eat healthy in the first place. On average the Japanese males consume 2140 calories per day and Japanese females consume only 1750 calories per day, which makes the national average of 1900 calories per day only. It is the Japanese specific culture, habits and food traditions that reflect such low obesity rates (Kanazawa et al 2002).

The author’s suggestions for future research calls for additional exploration of the role of physical activity, since not only changing food consumption preferences but also the growing inactivity of the Japanese contribute to the changing and growing obesity rates (Kanazawa et al 2002).


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