Why Japanese kids are destined for long, healthy lives

by WorldTribune Staff, March 12, 2019

The exercise habits and eating patterns of most Japanese children ensures they will live long and lead healthy lifestyles, an author said.

Japan has exceptionally high rates (98.3 percent) of children walking or biking to school compared with other similar-income countries, which is obviously linked with Japan’s low levels of childhood obesity, according to Naomi Moriyama, author of “Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Children”.

Most children in Japan walk or bike to school.

The World Health Organization reports that appropriate levels of physical activity for 5 to 17-year-olds contribute to the development of healthy bones, muscles, and joints, as well as a healthy cardiovascular system, coordination, and movement control, improving management of symptoms of anxiety and depression, and providing opportunities for a child’s self-expression, social interaction and integration.

Moriyama also noted that Japanese-style eating “is very efficient in that it’s both filling and it delivers a high-quality nutrient package.”

Nutritionist Tomomi Takahashi of the Kaji Sakura Nursery School in Hokkaido advises parents that. “You don’t need to try so hard. Have a relaxed attitude, so your child can relax and be comfortable eating. Show your child that you enjoy eating, and the food tastes wonderful.”

Takahashi stresses the importance of dining together as a family. “Even when you’re busy, set a specific meal time so you can sit down and eat with your child at least once a day. Cook your meals with love, and it will resonate in the child’s heart. Feel the joy of eating together with your child.”

Japan is also noted for serving smaller plates. Jennifer Orlet Fisher, PhD, director of the Temple University Center for Obesity Research and Education and its Family Eating Laboratory, found that children tend to not serve themselves huge portions when left to their own devices. She feels that offering children smaller plates and letting them take their own food could be helpful in keeping portion size and appetite in proper perspective.

Moriyama noted: “When you fill up on the good stuff your body needs, you’ll naturally have fewer cravings (and less room) for junk. But you don’t have to eat seaweed, sushi, and tofu to nourish a healthy child – just tweak your family food habits in a more healthy direction. Serve more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and healthy fats, like heart-healthy omega 3-rich fish, and less processed food with added sugars and salt. This food pattern is relatively low in calories, high in nutrients, and more efficiently filling by being lower in calorie density or ‘calories per bite.’ ”

One of Japan’s secrets to healthy living, Moriyama said, is the country’s “default meal foundation is rice, much more than bread or pasta. The advantage of Japanese-style short-grain rice, preferably brown, or the incredibly good tasting haiga partially milled rice, is that it is water-rich when cooked, fluffy, and super-filling, and much lower in calorie density than bread. Rice might also displace less healthy foods and reduce the overall number of calories eaten.”

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