The global prevalence of obesity continues to rise, with over 2,000,000,000 people worldwide described as overweight or obese by the World Health Organization (WHO), at nearly triple the number in 1975.
An individual is described as overweight or obese when they have excessive amounts of body fat over the amount recommended for a healthy lifestyle. A September 2019 article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by Ayton and Ibrahim suggests that in order to tackle this obesity epidemic, obesity must be recognized as a disease affecting a population, rather than the result of individual choice. Environmental factors are a clear driving force in this exponential rise of obesity, highlighted by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s most recent obesity update in 2017, which showed great variation in the prevalence of obesity across the OECD countries. Japan had the lowest prevalence of obesity. Understanding how environmental factors in Japan differ from countries with a high obesity prevalence could offer insights into finding solutions to this global problem.
GlobalData epidemiologists have shown similar variations in the total prevalence of obesity in men and women over the age of 18 years across the seven major markets (7MM: US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan) in 2022 (Figure.1). The highest total prevalence was seen in the US, which had an approximate total prevalence of 40%. The lowest total prevalence was seen in Japan, at 4%. Obesity increases the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and several types of cancer. It is therefore crucial that these rates do not continue to rise.
The low prevalence of obesity in Japan can be explained through healthy lifestyle habits that the Japanese population have continued over time. The average person in Japan is thought to consume approximately 200 fewer calories than an average American person daily, which is thought to be due to higher food prices and traditional dietary habits in Japan, which are often healthier. The traditional Japanese diet consists of high consumption of vegetables, fish, and soybean products, and low consumption of animal fat, meat, and dairy.
The Japanese population is also thought to be more physically active than many other populations worldwide, both through planned exercise and as part of their everyday life. This is partly due to the high cost of owning a car in Japan, meaning more active forms of transport are used as an alternative.
Understanding differences in the prevalence of obesity across different countries is vital for developing effective methods for obesity prevention. Data from Japan indicate the need for further policy introduction at the national level in other markets, as well as limiting the ease of making unhealthy choices such as through purchasing a car or buying unhealthy food.