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School lunches in Japan effective in reducing obesity in students: study

TOKYO -- Nutritious school lunches served nationwide help prevent obesity in adolescent children in Japan, according to a study by a research team published in a British health journal.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo analyzed the relationship between physical changes in students from the second grade of junior high school to the first grade of high school and the increased rate of serving school lunches at public junior high schools, which had risen from 74.8 percent to 82.6 percent from 2006 to 2015, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The year after the rate of serving these lunches, which usually consist of a main meal, a side dish and milk, went up by 10 percent on a prefectural basis, the rate of obesity in male students decreased by 0.23 percent and the ratio of those who tended to be overweight fell by 0.37 percent.

The study shows that the increase in serving school lunches was also linked to a decrease in the average weight of students and an increase in their average height. The study for female students also reflected a similar trend. However, the proportion of thin female students is relatively high so the results don't show a significant difference.

According to research team member Yasuki Kobayashi, a professor in the public health and health policy department at the University of Tokyo, Japanese school lunches where all students are served the same meals are rare in other countries due to religious differences and other factors.

In response to the finding, Kobayashi said, "School lunches may be effective in reducing the number of fussy eaters and teaching students healthy eating habits."

The lunch program was originally introduced in Japan for schoolchildren who had no lunch or were undernourished.

(Japanese original by Hitomi Tanimoto, Medical Welfare News Department)

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