The Japanese diet has long been lauded as one of the healthiest on the planet, yielding a population with high longevity and low rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Despite that, shocking new statistics indicate that their health is taking a turn for the worse, with 29% of Japanese women now considered underweight. New reports blame the change on increasingly skinny models and pressure to diet and stay thin. Meanwhile, Japanese men are increasingly obese.
The Japanese Health Ministry released the new findings from a government survey, saying that the number of young, thin women is at a record high. With “underweight” defined as a BMI of below 18.5, they’re not necessarily reaching a health crisis, but a Health Ministry representative said they’re still concerned:
The women are not at risk of health problems yet, but we are making it a goal to bring the number down to 20 percent in the next decade.
The statistics are mostly believed to be the result of increasing cultural pressure to be thin: ABC News quoted several Japanese women explaining that their friends regularly skipped meals and went on diets to stay skinny.
Twenty-four-year-old Shiho Aoki said the pressure for young women to be thin is greater than ever, largely because popular Japanese models are getting skinnier. At 5 feet 1 and weighing 100 pounds, Aoki said she was considered “fat” among friends.
“I had a child 8 months ago, but I’ve been struggling to lose weight ever since,” Aoki told ABC News. “I’m very jealous of my friends who are skinny.”
Meanwhile, Japanese men are teetering in the opposite direction: Nearly 40% of men in their 40s and 50s are considered overweight (while only 20% of women the same age are).
If this sounds all too familiar, it still doesn’t fail to make you wince in sympathy for women who are restricting their diets—and likely causing themselves mental and physical distress—for the sake of the same beauty ideals that have caused similar problems in the U.S.