Topics: Obesity, Body mass index, Nutrition Pages: 5 (1369 words) Published: February 17, 2015

For Japanese Women, a Competition to be Thin
In Japan, only 3.5 percent of the population is considered obese. In contrast, the U.S has a climbing obesity rate that is currently thirty percent. A main reason for the contrast in obesity rates is the “culture of health” that Japan has long promoted. In part, Japan has been the healthiest nation thanks to its meals of vegetables, fish, and small portions. However, although Japan is able to avoid the problem of obesity, it is experiencing a rapid increase in eating disorders. Japanese government data shows that since 1984, all age categories of women from the teenage years to age 59 have become thinner. In fact, according to the Japanese government for the majority of women in this age group, Body Mass Index (BMI) falls below 18.5, which is considered underweight. Unlike the rest of the world, Japan’s population is getting skinnier, not fatter. The government’s changes in BMI and weight laws, as well as cultural expectations to be thin, have led Japanese women in all different age groups to develop eating disorders.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, anorexia and bulimia are categorized by clinical disturbances in body image. Individuals who have eating disorders complain of feeling fat all the time. In addition, they have a fear of gaining weight and have a relentless pursuit of thinness. According to the Columbia University Press, “Bulimia nervosa is defined by an overvaluation of weight shape and the behavioral symptoms of recurrent binge eating accompanied by purging and fasting.” Japanese doctors say that bulimia is the most common eating disorder in Japan, even more prevalent than anorexia. The Columbia University Press defines anorexia as “self-starvation in which the individual is obsessed with becoming increasingly thinner and limits food intake to the point where health is compromised.” According to retired Tokyo University epidemiologist Hiroyuki Suematsu, one in one hundred people suffer from anorexia in Japan. Anorexia is affecting people from all different socioeconomic backgrounds in Japan. People in Japan often develop an eating disorder due to a fear of becoming fat. The Japanese culture is a major reason eating disorders are more prevalent in Japan than in other countries.

People in all age groups are affected by eating disorders in Japan. Sakiko Ohno, a cosmetics wholesaler in Tokyo, is 40 and has a BMI of 19.5 – which is low, but still in the normal range. However, although Sakiko is on the low range of thin she remarked in an interview, “I think I am very fat. If I have a Starbucks muffin, that night I will skip rice and have vegetables." Child psychologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Hisako Watanabe, says that social pressure is the most important reason female skinniness is ascendant in Japan. Wantanabe also remarked that, "Japanese women are outstandingly tense and critical of each other… There is a pervasive habit among women to monitor each other with a serious sharp eye to see what kind of slimness they have." Obviously, this constant judging and being judged based on thinness plays an impact in developing eating disorders. To further prove that culture has an impact on eating disorders, researches did a study to see if people in urban areas or if people in cities were thinner. They found that people in rural areas of Japan were considerably thinner than those who lived in the suburbs. "When population density is high, women are busy checking out body weight," Watanabe said. Japanese woman want others to be fatter than them. They will feel better about themselves if they are the skinniest in the crowd, rather than average. The way Japanese women think about themselves compared to others is complicated and competitive. Shockingly, this competitive attitude is beginning as young as elementary school. Research psychiatrist, Dr Aya...

Cited: Shimbun, Yomiuri. Eating Disorders seen rising among woman. Newspaper Source Plus. 26 Feb 2012
Harden, Blaine. “Big in Japan? Fat chance for nation 's young women.” The Washington Post. 7 March 2012
Naomi, Chisuwa. O’Dea, Jennifer A. Body Image and eating disorders amongst Japanese adolescents. Appetite. Vol. 54 Issue 1, p5-15. 11p. Feb 2010
Hanias, Georgia. “Anorexia: The epidemic Japan refuses to live up to.” Women’s Issues. 5 May 2012.
Efron, Sonni. “Eating disorders in the increase in Asia.” Los Angeles Times. 8 March 2012.
Mcnicol, Tony. “Japan diet risks on rise.” The Japan Times. 3 Aug 2004.
“Eating Disorders.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th Edition. 2013.
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