Original paper

BMI in Japanese children since 1948 : no evidence of a major rise in the prevalence of obesity in Japan

Hermanussen, Michael;Molinari, Luciano;Satake, Takashi


The dramatic world-wide trend towards increasing body weight seems to be less obvious in the Japanese population. The aim of this study is to extract potentially useful information regarding childhood and adolescence obesity in Japan from series of mean height and mean body mass index between 1948 and 2003. Mean values for height and weight of Japanese boys and girls aged 5+ to 17+ years were obtained from the "Reports on School Health Survey",Ministry of Education,Culture,Sports,Science and Technology,comprising approximately 4.5% of all children and adolescents in Japan between 1948 and 2003. The data were fitted by the Preece and Baines model(Preece & Baines 1978)in order to obtain estimates of the age of peak height velocity (APHV) and final height. Isochrones for height and BMI were calculated based upon measurements that were obtained at the same chronological ages at different historic epochs. The APHV as estimated by Preece & Baines(1978)has decreased from 14.07 to 12.03 years in Japanese boys,and from 11.80 to 9.92 years in Japanese girls,indicating that the tempo of child and adolescent maturation(maturational tempo)has accelerated. Body height increased by 10.1 cm in near adult 17+ year old Japanese males and by 5.7 cm in 17+ year old Japanese females since 1948. Due to the acceleration and the earlier attainment of adult stature,isochrones for height tend to diverge for prepubertal ages and to converge for postpubertal ages. The same is true for weight. Body weight has increased by 11.8 kg in near adult males,and by 4.4 kg in near adult females. Also BMI has increased since 1948. But in contrast to height and weight,the rise in BMI only reflects the acceleration of the maturational tempo. Tempo-conditioned isochrones for BMI are almost horizontal,and even tended to temporarily decrease during the 60ies and the 70ies. The BMI of Japanese children and adolescents dramatically contrasts the recent and historic BMI changes in the Western populations. The present study provides no evidence of any major rise in the prevalence of obesity in Japan as expressed by mean BMI for age and time of birth,and suggests that Japanese children and adolescents may be more resistant against those environmental factors that have caused obesity in the affluent Western societies.


obesitychildhoodadolescent maturationage of peak height velocity.