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Kids in Japan's physical exam scores at historic low, obesity rates at record high in 2021

A child is seen using a smartphone in this file photo. (Mainichi/Akira Ino)

TOKYO -- Boys' total scores in a 2021 physical strength test are a record low since tests began in the 2008 academic year, while obesity rates are at a record high among elementary school children and boys in junior high school, the Japan Sports Agency revealed Dec. 24.

    An academic 2021 physical fitness and motor skills test was conducted between April and July 2021 on about 1.03 million fifth-grade elementary school students and about 980,000 second-year junior high school students at all of Japan's national, public and private institutions. The academic 2020 tests were canceled due to the coronavirus, meaning the survey was held for the first time in two years.

    The record low physical strength results and high obesity rates appear to owe to temporary closures nationwide of schools and limitations on activities amid the pandemic.

    The Japan Sports Agency commented, "On top of a change in living environment due to digitalization, the coronavirus exacerbated the situation."

    The total points scored in eight sporting events, including a 50-meter dash and a standing long jump, marked a record low for both elementary school and middle school boys. Fifth-grade boys scored an average of 52.5 out of 80, down 1.1 points from the 2019 academic year, while fifth-grade girls had an average of 54.7, down 0.9 points. Male second-year junior high school students scored 41.1 points, a fall of 0.5 points, while female students in the same year scored 48.4 points, a drop of 1.6 points. Boys in the fifth grade recorded a new low after the group's record low in the 2019 academic year. The second-grade middle school boys' score was below academic 2019's 41.3, the previous lowest recorded score since the physical strength test began in the 2008 school year.

    Meanwhile, 13.1% of fifth-grade boys were obese, up 2 percentage points from the academic 2019 survey, as were 8.8% of fifth-grade girls, up 0.7 points. Regarding middle schoolers, second-year boys had a 10.0% obesity rate, up 1.4 points, and girls in the same year 7.1%, up 0.5 points. Obesity rates for all groups except female second-year junior high students were at record highs.

    The survey also asked children how much they exercise in one week outside physical education classes. There was a 2.4 to 4.5-point decline in the percentage of fifth-grade elementary and second-year junior high school boys and girls who exercised at least seven hours a week compared to academic 2019. All groups saw a rise of between 3.3 to 7.0 points in spending two hours or more watching TV or videos on smartphones, or playing video games.

    (Japanese original by Akira Okubo, City News Department)

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