Japan has the same access to the things that make people fat as every other first world country, so why has the Japanese population remained in a healthy weight range while other countries’ obesity problem has ballooned? I think it comes down to a culture that values thinness, isn’t afraid to offend (in some circumstances), and has better food education.
Not being afraid to offend. Well, in other countries you have unathletic 300lb+ people going on national television saying that doctors don’t have a right to tell them that their lifestyle is a problem.
A number of factors contribute to women being much thinner on average in Japan.
- Healthier food culture. Japanese cuisine focuses normally on meals containing a number of vegetables, smaller portions of meat, and less oil usually (fewer fried food groups, with a few notable exceptions). Japanese are usually more consciousness about excess sugar content (some Japanese desserts are a bit bland- no sugar) and excess salt content to some extent.
- Women here especially have a body image focused on being overly skinny, so waistlines and weight are sometimes obsessive goals.
- Many people here are more active as in many urban areas people use public transportation and walk a lot more than the average person in many Western countries. More people in Japan live in urbanized areas with good public transport.
- Related to #1, many people here drink Japanese tea as their main beverage, not soda or over sugared coffee drinks.
- There is a lot of social pressure to stay ultra skinny (especially for women), with people focusing on a skinny body rather than a muscular or a maintenance of an ideal body weight. As noted in #2, it can be obsessive, especially for young women (18–29 years of age) who are tied with South Korean women for the lowest body fat at 2%. These same groups of women also hold the #1 spot for women in the world who suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia, the two most dangerous mental illnesses by death rates in the world.
- Healthier snacking habits. Many snacks here tend to be lower calorie types or vegetables of some sort. seaweed is another common type. As noted the portions are smaller for meals and snacks.