Japanese Food Education ‘Shohuiku’.

An article in today’s independent publishes this headline:

“Japan’s high life expectancy linked to diet.”

According to this article

“The high life expectancy enjoyed in Japan is largely down to the nation’s healthy diet. The population of the island nation, which has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, eat diets high in certain carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits as well as fish and meat. Such foods make for a diet low in saturated fats, processed foods and high in carbohydrates gained from both rice and vegetables.”

However, the article fails to highlight a massive contributor to those high life expectancy statistics which is Shokuiku; which translates to Food Education.

The Japanese dietary pattern, which consists of rice as a staple, combined with a variety of other food, such as fish, meat, vegetables, fruits and milk, was formulated by around 1980. This dietary pattern was well balanced from nutritional point of view.


However in 2003, following a National Health and Nutrition survey which found that overweight and obesity was increasing and that many young people were skipping breakfast, the Japanese realized that something needed to be done to change eating habits. Following this, the Basic Law on Shokuiku was enacted in June 2005. The Basic Law defines Shokuiku as acquisition of knowledge about food as well as the ability to make appropriate food choices.Twenty-two years ago, home economics became a core course for all students in Japan, just like science and math is here in the UK.

So here is a summary of how Food Education/Home Economics is implemented in schools in Japan:

  • Home Economics is mandatory for both boys and girls in Japanese schools.
  • There are 4,000 nutrition teachers across Japan.
  • Students study it from grade 5 to grade 12.
  • Many schools have gardens and grow their own rice.
  • Students are involved in the preparation of lunches and take turns every day to serve food to their teachers and fellow students.
  • Everyone sits down together at school and eats together.
  • While they eat students learn about nutrition.

The aims of the Basic Law on Shokuiku include the following:

  • Care should be taken to encourage people to develop greater appreciation for and understanding of their diets.
  • Nationwide, voluntary movements for promotion of Shokuiku should be developed.
  • Parents, educators and care providers should actively promote Shokuiku among children.
  • Understanding of dietary issues should be reinforced by taking advantage of all available opportunities, such as at home, in schools and in the community or everywhere, to offer a variety of food-related experiences and activities.
  • Awareness and appreciation of traditional Japanese food culture as well as food supply/demand situations should be promoted.

Since McDonald’s opened its doors in Tokyo more than 40 years ago, fast food franchises have flourished, but Japanese waistlines haven’t. It’s a trend government planners say is thanks to mandatory home economics classes.

According to Takuya Mitani, a health education planner with Japan’s Education Ministry.

“Obesity rates have been gradually decreasing since 2003 in children and teens”.

Mitani says the government was able to stabilize the problem through early recognition and an aggressive approach to food education in Japan’s public school system.

Perhaps, the government in the UK could learn from the Japanese approach to food education. Unfortunately, this year they have decided to remove A level Food Education from the curriculum. I fear, as mentioned here many times on my blogs that this step is a big mistake and may lead to continuous flourishing waistlines and associated illnesses in years to come.


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