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10 Reasons Why Only 3.5% of Japanese Are Obese

Yunomi Staff |

The Japanese are notorious for both their slender bodies and delicious food. While these two things are usually mutually exclusive, Japan has managed for find the perfect balance. How has Japan managed to keep their obesity level at just 3.5%? In contrast, many Western countries have levels of well over 40%.

1. Japanese Food

In general, traditonal Japanese foods utilize fresh ingredients. Instead of focusing on fattening meats, many Japanese means focus on seasonal vegetables and fish.

2.   Smaller portion sizes

The average meal in Japan is served with many small dishes. Not only are the portion sizes smaller, but the overall amount of food consumed is less. Is it estimated that Japanese people consume about 25% fewer calories than their Western counterparts.

3. Workplace Obligations

While being obese is generally frowned upon no matter where you are, being obese in Japan simply isn’t tolerated. Japanese companies routinely mandate their employees to undergo medical screenings. If an employee is overweight, he or she will be forced to participate in medical counseling. Companies that fail to meet weight standards have to pay higher insurance premiums.

4. Social Stigma

The “fat acceptance movement” has yet to take off in Japan. Perhaps they haven’t gotten the memo or read the tumblr thread. It is still very unacceptable to be overweight in Japan. Furthermore, while it is considered impolite to comment on a person’s weight in the United States, the Japanese are very blunt about this matter.

5. More Cities, More Movement

The majority of people in Japan live in cities. City dwellers tend to move more than those who live in the countryside. Few can afford to keep a car in the city so most Japanese depend on the country’s fantastic public transportation system. All in all, Japanese spend most of their day in motion.

6. Exercise is A National Event

While most nations would prefer for their citizens to be active, Japan takes exercise very seriously. Every October Japan celebrates 体育の日 (taiku no hi) which translates as Health Sports Day. This national holiday exists to promote sports and a healthy lifestyle. Around this time, Japanese children will partake in Sports Day Celebrations at their school. Health and exercise are an integral part of the Japanese lifestyle.

7. School Lunch

In Japan, school lunches are always a healthy balance of locally sourced vegetables, rice, and fish. Most districts hire a nutritionist to prepare their meal plan. Despite the care taken to prepare each meal, the cost of feeding Japan’s school children is surprisingly affordable at around $3 per meal. Japan’s lunches are generally prepared with the help of the children themselves. They are taught to prepare and clean up after their own meals, a valuable life lesson. Interestingly, Japanese children tend to eat their lunches in their classroom.

8. Bicycles, Bicycles Everywhere!

Not only do Japanese tend to walk more and utilize public transportation, but traveling by bicycle is also safe and commonplace throughout the country. Much like in Northern Europe, it is not unusual to see a young Japanese mother with two (or more!!!) children on a bicycle riding around town. Because bicycles are so common, drivers are less aggressive and the roads are generally very safe.

9. Obesity is Illegal!

As Snopes is quick to point out, this rumor is not true. However, there is a bit of truth behind the exaggeration. Japan requires citizens between the ages of 45 and 74 to have their waists measured once a year. If the individual is at risk of being overweight, they are encouraged to seek medical attention. This law, called the “Metabo Law” was passed in January 2008. 

10. “Free Size” Shopping Nightmare

Overweight individuals have trouble shopping in Japan. It’s no secret that the majority of Japanese are petite and, compared to Westerners, quite short. Within the Japanese fashion industry, it’s not uncommon to find “free size” clothing. This “one size fits all” trend makes shopping difficult for larger people. Even in places where sizes are available, the largest size may be a US size M. Larger individuals are forced to shop at more specialty shops or import their larger clothes.