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Let’s discuss healthy eating in Japan

This week’s featured article

J. J. O’DONOGHUE, SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES

In a country where food culture permeates all aspects of life and society, it is perhaps unsurprising that Japan leads the “World Health Olympics,” in the words of Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle. In their book, “Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Children,” the pair proselytize for the traditional diet of Japanese families, revealing how Japan manages to stay healthy, with tidbits of parenting advice thrown in.

The book opens with Japan’s podium finish: the results of a comprehensive 2012 study, backed by the Gates Foundation and published in the medical journal The Lancet, which showed that of the world’s nations, children born in Japan can expect to have the healthiest lives and live the longest. The U.S. was ranked 32.

Like many exasperated first-time parents, when their son was born, Moriyama and Doyle turned to books and experts to glean advice on everything from sleeping to discipline. However, when it came to food, Moriyama felt she needed extra guidance, which is why she turned her attention toward home.

Their book’s obvious objective is promoting health, which the authors say comes from eating more plants and fruit, less sugar, salt and processed foods, and serving correctly sized portions on smaller plates. But there is another theme — one that echoes back to an era before the digital age, when we were all less distracted by phones, tablets, alerts and TV; an era when kids were ferried to school by their own two feet. Moriyama urges us to think back to the past, when outdoor games and exercise were part of a daily regimen. Some of the book’s “secrets” are simply valuable lessons that have been lost in our hyper-busy age.

Moriyama advises stocking your refrigerator and cupboards with the food you want to eat and serve your family. “This way if your child wants to open the cupboard and eat something, they will be presented with healthy options,” she says, acknowledging that habit can be the best of teachers.

Japan may be obsessed with food, but, as Moriyama says, “It’s a healthy obsession.”

First published in The Japan Times on Dec. 26.


Warm up

One-minute chat about food.

Game

Collect words related to health, e.g., check-up, exercise, stress.

New words

1) proselytize: try to convert someone from one belief or opinion to another.; e.g., “The plaintiff lost the case.”

2) tidbit: pleasing or choice bit of food, news, gossip, etc.

e.g., “The magazine offered tidbits of celebrity gossip.”

3) obsess: to be on your mind a lot — often too much; e.g., “He gets obsessed with work and forgets to take breaks.”

Guess the headline

Why are J_ _ _ _ _ _ _ children the h_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ in the world?

Questions

1) Why might Japanese children be the healthiest in the world?

2) What are some healthy eating habits, according to the book?

3) What kind of food does the author recommend keeping at home?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What do you usually eat at home?

2) Do you think Japanese children live healthy lives?

3) What do you do to stay healthy?

Reference

家庭での食事はどのようなことを心がけているでしょうか。一人だと無頓着にもなりがちな食事も、家族、特に子供ができると一変するというケースも 多いことでしょう。 日本の子供たちが世界一健康であるとの研究結果が出たようです。しかし、その日本ですら子供たちを取り巻く環境は大きく変わりつつあることは明らかです。この本で推奨されているような食事習慣・生活習慣を守れている子供たちの数は、急速に減っているのではないでしょうか。

せっかく世界一になった環境がなくなりつつあるのは悲しいことですが、 それを食い止めるのは一人一人の心がけしかありません。言うまでもなく、日々の食事・習慣はその人の体を作り、健康を左右します。わかってはいるけれどなかなか実践するのは大変、という状況を一歩抜け出し、健康的な2016年を送りたいものです。

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