Children in nuclear disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture are getting fatter due to lack of outdoor exercise amid daily radiation exposure limitations, the government said Tuesday in its school health report.
The preliminary report, released by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, showed an increase in children from kindergarten to high school age who weighed 20 percent more than the standard according to their height.
In Fukushima, 449 schools, or 56 percent of public schools, had curtailed outdoor activities during school time as of June last year to minimize exposure to radiation released from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant. Such restrictions were still in place at 71 elementary and junior high schools this September, according to the prefectural board of education. It is believed schools based the amount of time they allowed kids to spend outdoors on local atmospheric radioactive fallout readings.
The obesity trend was noticeable among early elementary school students, with the rate among first-graders standing at 9.7 percent, up 4.7 percentage points from the previous survey in fiscal 2010 through March 2011, which was when the fallout crisis started. The rate for third-graders came to 13.5 percent, up 5.1 points.
As for ninth-graders, the rate was 11.5 percent, up 0.6 point, while that for high school seniors stood at 14.1 percent, up 1.4 points, according to the latest survey, which is based on health checkups conducted between April and June.
The board of education received reports on the increase in overweight students even though schools have adopted various measures to complement the lack of outdoor exercise, including pushing kids to use stairways and halls to increase walking, an official said.
Children in northern regions that experience more severe winters are prone to gain weight because they are inclined to curb outdoor activities when it’s cold. But a ministry official noted the obesity trend seen in children in Fukushima should not be attributed only to the usual cold winters, and the report meanwhile did not indicate if its findings were linked to seasonal factors.
Given the problematic trend, the board of education may dispatch sports trainers to schools and encourage students to engage in community sports activities, an official said.