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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Alarming trend towards obesity (follow-up)

December 27, 2012


Obesity rising for Fukushima kids / 5- to 9-year-olds show highest rates of obese children across the nation




An alarming trend toward obesity has been found among children in Fukushima Prefecture, which has the highest rate of obese children in every age group between 5 and 9 years old, according to the results of a nationwide school health survey released by the education ministry.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry also said the prefecture ranked second-worst for the rate of obese children aged 10 and 11.

An official of the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education attributed the trend to "a lack of physical exercise and stress stemming from prolonged living in shelters and restrictions on playing outside" after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

The survey comprised a random nationwide sample of 695,600 children in kindergarten, primary, middle and high schools, aged from five to 17, from April to June. The sample represents about 5 percent of all children in the country in this age group.

The survey reflects the number of children with an obesity rate, which is calculated based on average weights and other factors, of 20 percent or more.

It was not conducted last year in Fukushima Prefecture due to the disaster.

In comparison with figures from the 2010 academic year, the prefecture's rate of 6-year-old obese boys increased to 11.4 percent, the highest observed, from 6.2 percent, or ninth place just two years ago.

The age group containing 8-year-old girls in the prefecture also showed the highest obesity rates, standing at 14.61 percent--nearly double the 8.1 percent recorded in 2010, or 17th in the rankings.

Children in the 10- and 11-year-old age groups in Miyagi Prefecture and those in the 16-year-old age group in Iwate Prefecture also had the highest obesity level in the rankings. However, the increase in obese children in Fukushima Prefecture was the most extreme among the three prefectures, which were hit hardest by the quake and tsunami.

Many children from Fukushima Prefecture still live in shelters away from their homes. Furthermore, about half of public primary schools had restricted their students' outdoor activities, such as to three hours in a day as of October 2011, out of consideration for possible radiation on school grounds.

Regarding the spike in obesity in the 5- to 9-year-old group, an official of the education board said: "Parents, particularly those who have small children, were very concerned about possible radiation effects. They may have also restricted their children from playing outside at home."

(Dec. 27, 2012)

N-fears suspected in weight gain



FUKUSHIMA--The Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education is drawing up plans to help schools prevent childhood obesity, after the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry's announcement Tuesday that obesity has been on the rise among children in the prefecture.

The increased rate of childhood obesity in the prefecture since the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has led some observers to speculate radiation fears caused the increase.

The education board plans to promote exercise by sending sports experts to primary schools, a board official said.

One ministry official commented: "As snow piles up in the Tohoku region during the winter, children there tend not to get enough exercise."

Indeed, the highest obesity rates in recent years have been recorded in the six prefectures in the Tohoku region and Hokkaido.

An official of the Fukushima board's health education division said, "We have no choice but to conclude such high rates are a result of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake."

In each age group from 5 to 9 years old, the prefecture's obesity was the highest in the country. "As parents with small children have especially strong fears of radiation, the rates among children in kindergarten and the lower grades of primary schools were markedly high."

Although decontamination efforts of school grounds have been progressing since the survey was conducted in spring, primary schools in the prefecture were previously asked to limit children's outdoor activities to three hours a day in October 2011.

The restriction was lifted in 90 percent of schools by September.

Kanebusa Primary School in Minami-Soma in the prefecture, which resumed classes at a temporary school building in the city, lifted the restriction this spring. Principal Shoichi Yamanobe said, "We were concerned the children might lose their stamina, agility and sense of balance [because they couldn't spend much time outside]." But now, he says, children are free to play outdoors and have been steadily regaining their strength.

Takashi Goto, head of the Japan Child and Family Research Institute, said: "Building physical strength is important not only in childhood but also over a lifetime. Schools should strive to promote children's healthy growth by providing them with increased chances for exercise while playing."

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