An estimated 129,000 adult Japanese died in 2007 of health complications caused by smoking, the nation's biggest lifestyle killer, according to studies by the University of Tokyo and other research organizations.
The number of deaths that year from strokes or other health problems caused by high blood pressure came to an estimated 104,000.
"If Japan is to retain its reputation for longevity, its first step must be to implement powerful and effective measures against smoking," said Nayu Ikeda, project assistant professor at the University of Tokyo's Department of Global Health Policy. "People must also learn to routinely check their blood pressure. That is also very important."
Ikeda was joined by Kenji Shibuya, a professor of health policy at the university's Department of Global Health Policy, and other researchers in analyzing adult deaths in Japan in 2007 caused by 16 risk factors.
Among the listed risks were smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, high blood sugar, high salt intake, alcohol consumption and obesity--all of which can be lessened by a change in lifestyle or medication.
The researchers compared mortality rate among smokers and nonsmokers who died of lung cancer, esophagus cancer, myocardial infarction and other diseases that are believed to be induced by tobacco smoking, and then calculated the number of deaths due to smoking from total deaths for each disease.
They determined that a lack of exercise and elevated blood sugar followed smoking and high blood pressure as the nation's leading killers.
In 2007, deaths in Japan, including children, numbered 1,108,000.
The researchers say their analysis of deaths based on risk factors is the first of its kind in the country.
According to the World Health Organization, high blood pressure was the leading cause of deaths in the world in 2004, followed by smoking, high intake of sugar, lack of exercise and obesity.
The findings are based on an analysis of about 59 million deaths worldwide.
In Japan, high salt intake accounts for more deaths than in other countries, while obesity accounts for fewer, according to Ikeda.
The average lifespan for Japanese women in 2010 was 86.39 years, making them the longest living females in the world for the 26th consecutive year. The average lifespan for Japanese men in the same year was 79.64 years.
The Japanese researchers' findings were carried in the December 2011 issue of the online version of PLoS Medicine, an international peer-reviewed journal on human health.
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