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Numbers Game: Answer

According to recent estimates, 30.6 percent of adults in the United States are classified as obese (Body Mass Index of 30 or higher,) while only 3.2 percent of the adult population in Japan falls into that category.

With that in mind, here’s an interesting fact:

Average caloric consumption in the US clocks in at 3,770 calories a day, whereas the average Japanese citizen takes in 2,770 calories a day.

Quite a striking difference, wouldn’t you say?

By the way, I have seen lots of sloppy reporting in regards to Japan’s obesity rate.

Many articles point out that Japan’s reputation as a healthy nation is undeserved, since one third of their adults are obese.

Not quite.

It just so happens that Japan and The United States use different parameters to define obesity.

In the USA, one is categorized as obese if their Body Mass Index totals 30 or more.

“Overweight,” meanwhile, is used to describe BMIs ranging from 25.0 to 29.9

Japan, however, considers a BMI of 25 to mark the onset of obesity.

To fall into the “overweight” category in the land of the rising sun, one’s BMI needs to be between 23.0 and 24.9.

Theories of the Japanese having a distinct genetic makeup that makes them less likely to be obese are flimsy, since adopting the typical US diet — with its excessive caloric load — leads to weight gain in this population as well.



  1. Mia said on July 29th, 2008

    Hi Andy,

    I was wondering if you had any data on the rates of eating disorders in Japan. I’ve heard it has one of the highest rates of eating (as in under-eating, not over-eating)disorders in the world. If this is the case, might it have some bearing on how we think of “healthy” eating in this country and in others?

  2. Andy Bellatti said on July 29th, 2008


    Great question! The US and Japan have very similar eating disorder rates — both range from 1.8 – 1.95 percent of the population living with either anorexia or bulimia nervosa.

    This figure does not account for binge eating disorder.

    Japan’s reputation as a country with an overall healthy diet does not simply stem from people’s weight, though.

    Rates of many diseases and cancers are lower than in other first world countries, and longevity for both men and women is among the highest in the world.

    This is, of course, also related to issues of health care, but nutrition undoubtedly plays a role.

  3. Lisa said on July 31st, 2008

    I’m amazed with the high number of calories for both countries, actually. 3770 calories a day? I suppose that’s what you get if you have fast food for all 3 meals.

    I’ve started reading your blog just recently and really enjoy it. Thanks for all the information!

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