Besides diet, Japanese may be adopting Western maladies
October 28, 1999
From Correspondent Holly Firfer
(CNN) -- Japan enjoys the highest average life expectancy of any nation, brought about in large part by a tradition of eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fish.
But as more Japanese adopt a Western diet rich in fats, meats and dairy products, some nutritionists worry they will come down with many of the same diet-related illnesses more common in Europe and the United States.
The Hirabayashis have a problem common in Japan, how to please the whole family at the dinner table. Manabu is older than his wife, Akiko, and prefers a traditional Japanese diet consisting of vegetables, rice, fish and soup.
His wife, on the other hand, enjoys more Western foods, like red meat, fried foods and dairy products.
The young population in Japan is increasingly eating like people in the United States, a trend that has alarmed researchers.
"I am afraid the education of the public is very insufficient and they are not really aware of the danger as much as the professionals, like doctors or researchers," said Dr. Hiroshige Itakura of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition.
Itakura worries more Japanese could suffer from the ailments that tend to be associated with such poor diets, like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, which historically have been rare in Japan.
Japan boasts the longest average life-span of any country. But the future could be jeopardized, considering children in Japan now consume more fat than their U.S. counterparts.
Researchers have already noticed some effects. Diet has changed the way Japanese look. Square jaws for chewing a diet high in roughage have been replaced by softer jaw-lines. And because less intestine is needed to digest a Western diet, experts say the Japanese torso is shrinking.
And one of the most noticeable physical changes from a Westernized diet is a taller population. Nutrition researchers say dairy products in the diet, provide extra calcium to make bones to grow longer.
Health gurus agree on one diet to fight disease
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