The Sept. 29 cover of Shukan Bunshun was adorned with an illustration of legendary New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, portrayed by Makoto Wada in a pinstripe uniform and with bat in hand.
Ruth’s amazing batting records were attributed in part to his remarkably good eyesight. There’s a slight irony here because the same issue of Shukan Bunshun carries a three-page article warning readers to beware the ravages of sumaho rōgan — presbyopia (longsightedness typically associated with aging) brought on by prolonged squinting at the tiny screen of a smartphone.
The eyes depend on ciliary muscles to adjust the focus on objects according to their distance from the viewer. When the ciliary muscles lose their flexibility, their ability to change the lens thickness results in the condition Japanese call rōgan (literally, “old eyes”).
“Before, it was rare for people in their 20s and 30s to seek treatment for eye fatigue, but recently their numbers have been soaring,” Misaki Ishikoka, a Tokyo ophthalmologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating the problem, tells the magazine. “We have to consider that it may be related to the growing use of smartphones.”
Actually, three factors may contribute to deteriorated vision: distance, reduced frequency of blinks and “blue light.” Holding the phone too close — 20 or 30 centimeters from the face — will strain the eye muscles. Reduced frequency of blinks will dry the eyes and cause irritation — smartphone users blink as few as six times per minute, about half that of someone reading a book. The third factor is so-called blue light, high-energy light in the visible spectrum — emitted by displays, and which can damage the retina.
An existing condition of presbyopia may also be aggravated by smartphone use, leading to other physical problems such as stiff shoulders or headaches. Phone users may just keep popping aspirin for the pain, not realizing their smartphone may be the cause.
Meanwhile, a report in Shukan Asahi (Oct. 7) probes the growing problem of constipation among primary school children, who may complain of such discomforts as feeling pain during evacuation due to hard or unusually large stools.
When Japan Toilet Labo conducted an internet survey of 4,833 primary schoolchildren and their parents, it found that 20.2 percent of the children complained of constipation, with 7.6 percent saying they evacuate less than once every three days. Only 32 percent of parents were aware that their children had such problems.
The solution clearly lies in education. In Shukan Asahi, Atsushi Kato, director of Japan Toilet Labo, advises parents to clean toilets together with their children and offer praise when they complete a bowel movement.
“Cleaning the toilet together is a ideal time to teach them about the importance of evacuation,” said Kato. “We want them to talk about toilets and poop. Asking kids to describe their bowel movements will give a parent important clues concerning their child’s diet, exercise and sleep.”
In a survey conducted last March, Kato’s organization learned that nearly half of all primary school students try to avoid defecating at school. Almost 68 percent of boys eschewed the school toilets, compared with fewer than 30 percent of girls. One reason for the boys’ higher number may be related to bullying or harassment in restrooms. As one remedy, more primary schools have been modernizing lavatory stalls to accord more privacy to users.
Measles may not normally be regarded as a sexually transmitted disease, but Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct. 6) speculates that visitors to the Tobita red-light district in Osaka’s Nishinari Ward may find themselves with an embarrassing case of the virus.
This claim is based on an outbreak of measles that flared up in mid-August, infecting over 30 workers at Kansai International Airport. The health authorities scrambled, and some 900 people received vaccinations.
The airport is less than an hour by train to Osaka’s Airin district, a congested area close to Tobita that is populated by many day laborers and elderly people, and which recently has been attracting backpackers and other low-budget travelers with its cheap lodgings.
Shukan Jitsuwa worries that infected travelers might carry the contagion.
“Some may see measles as a minor annoyance, but lots of elderly are residing here,” said a person who performs volunteer work in Airin. “An outbreak could be a disaster. And if it breaks out in Airin, it will definitely spread to Tobita as well.”
A medical journalist tells the magazine that this could be a serious concern: “When people who haven’t contracted measles as children grow to adulthood their resistance becomes lower. In the event of a mass outbreak, measles can cause potentially fatal inflammation of the brain, or pneumonia, among the elderly or infirm. So it can’t be taken lightly.”
Bad eyesight, constipation and measles weren’t the only health-related stories appearing in the weeklies, which also tackled premature dementia, syphilis, damaged tooth enamel and the financial collapse of the medical industry in Japan.
For people worried they may be developing premature dementia, Shukan Shincho (Sep. 8) offers a checklist of 12 items. They include taking much longer to perform a familiar task; disregarding one’s personal appearance; and difficulty operating the TV remote control.
Sunday Mainichi (Sep. 11) notes that the old scourge of syphilis is becoming a problem again, with 764 reported cases among women last year — a sixfold increase from 2010. The cause of the rise is not fully understood, but the disease has also been spreading rapidly in mainland China.
Shukan Gendai (Sep. 24-Oct. 1) warned that people past age 60 should stop brushing their teeth with commercial preparations, as it wears down tooth enamel. The article cited Akira Mori’s latest book published by Kodansha in August — titled “Ha wa Migaite wa Ikenai” (“Don’t Brush Your Teeth”) — which suggests that brushing can raise the risk of becoming bedridden and may aggravate the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The book’s advice? Run the tip of your tongue over your teeth instead.
Finally, Aera (Oct. 3) devotes 16 pages to the medical profession, including a prediction that the current health system’s finances will go bust — possibly in as soon as five years.
Physicians, heal thy system.