Japan high schoolers least obese but least confident, four-nation poll finds

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Japanese high school students have lower physical and mental self-confidence but healthier eating habits than their American, Chinese and South Korean counterparts, according to a study released Friday by the National Institution for Youth Education.

The NIYE, a semipublic body, collectively surveyed 8,480 high school students in China, South Korea, the United States and Japan last year about their mental and physical condition, asking them to evaluate themselves on their daily lifestyle, including eating and exercise habits.

Asked if they considered themselves a valuable person, 44.9 percent of Japanese said yes to some extent, compared with 83.8 percent of the American students, 83.7 percent of the Koreans and 80.2 percent of the Chinese.

The survey also points to weak self-confidence among Japanese teens because only 41.5 percent said they were satisfied with who they are, compared with 75.6 percent of the U.S. students, 70.4 percent of the Koreas and 62.2 percent of the Chinese.

Japan also had the lowest scores in two other questions related to self-confidence, though the scores on all four questions improved slightly from the 2010 survey.

Yoichi Akashi, chief director of the NIYE, noted that cultural differences played a role in the low self-evaluations.

“Japanese people tend to care about others more than themselves, and they evaluate themselves relative to others, whereas Americans and South Koreans are more likely to be self-centered in their evaluations,” Akashi said at a news conference at the education ministry on Friday.

When it comes to dietary habits, Japanese teens seem to eat healthier and be in better shape but apparently have lower confidence in their bodies.

Asked to list foods they had eaten three times or more in the past week, just 2.9 percent of the Japanese chose hamburgers or other fast foods, the lowest among three other nationalities. The U.S. students were tops in fast food at 17.2 percent.

As for obesity, however, the Japanese teens bested their counterparts based on Body Mass Index readings, with only 5 percent categorized as obese. Americans topped the obesity list at 24.6 percent, followed by the Chinese at 17 percent and the Koreans at 14.1 percent.

Nevertheless, Japanese students expressed lower satisfaction about their bodies, with more than 40 percent of students with average weight assuming they were overweight.

Asked whether they were satisfied with their body composition, only 23 percent of Japanese females answered positively, compared with less than two-thirds of their American counterparts.

More than 60 percent of the Japanese females said they had tried to lose weight, decrease meal sizes and exercise.

Although Japanese students tend to feel depressed more often than the other countries, they ranked the lowest in the percentage of students who expressed concerns related to mental instability, sleep deficiency, and loneliness. Japan also topped in the percentage of respondents who said they like to be alone.

More than two-thirds of Japanese students said they enjoyed exercise and sports, however, over 60 percent of the respondents said they had not engaged in any outdoors activities, such as camping, climbing, and hiking over the past year — the highest nonparticipation rate among all the nationals surveyed.