Stuck indoors, Fukushima children have highest obesity rates

December 26, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Children in Fukushima Prefecture have the highest obesity rates in Japan in seven age groups, education ministry statistics showed, a possible result of the restrictions on outdoor activities due to lingering fears of radiation.

The ministry’s preliminary statistics released Dec. 25 were based on 4.9 percent of all reports of health checkups in schools across Japan between April and June 2012.

Obese children, who are defined as those weighing at least 20 percent more than the standard weights defined by age and height, accounted for 2.39 percent of all 5-year-olds in Japan. But they accounted for 4.86 percent of 5-year-olds in Fukushima Prefecture, the highest rate in Japan.

The prefecture also had the highest obesity rates for children aged 6, 7, 8, 9, 14 and 17.

Officials at the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education noted that schoolchildren's outdoor activities have been restricted since the tsunami on March 11, 2011, crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

"Children cannot play outdoors (even apart from gym classes), so they now engage in less physical exercise," an education board official said. "That may be one cause."

Education ministry officials said the Tohoku region has long been characterized by higher obesity rates. After comparable data became available in fiscal 2006, Fukushima Prefecture had the highest obesity rates for 16-year-olds in fiscal 2006, 5-year-olds in fiscal 2008, 9-year-olds in fiscal 2009, and 15-year-olds in fiscal 2010.

But never before had Fukushima Prefecture topped so many age groups.

In June 2011, three months after the start of the nuclear crisis, 71 of all 481 public elementary schools in Fukushima Prefecture refrained from holding gym classes and other activities outdoors, while 242 others restricted overall outdoor activity to one to four hours a day.

In May 2012, 21 percent of all schools, or 98, were still imposing partial restrictions on outdoor activity.

Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures were not included in the annual statistics for fiscal 2011, because the three prefectures in the Tohoku region were struggling to rebuild from the devastation of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Children crowd a gymnasium during a break at Hirano Elementary School in Fukushima in May 2011, two months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Children crowd a gymnasium during a break at Hirano Elementary School in Fukushima in May 2011, two months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Children crowd a gymnasium during a break at Hirano Elementary School in Fukushima in May 2011, two months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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