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Healthful Lunches Cut Japanese Obesity Rate
January 27, 2013

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For the sixth year in a row, childhood obesity has declined in Japan, thanks in large part to a concerted effort by the Government and school systems to serve healthful foods at lunch.

Japanese school lunches look quite different from American school lunches, and it's not just because the kinds of foods offered are culturally different. Japanese students take a personal interest in their nutrition, so much so that they take turns serving lunch to one another. It is not at all uncommon to see students wearing white coats and hats and standing on the other side of the serving line. Students eat lunch in their classrooms, while listening to teachers talk about food nutrition.

Food served in Japanese schools is made from scratch, onsite, from ingredients locally grown, so students and teachers know that the ingredients are freshly prepared. Most schools employ nutritionists, who have a large role in shaping the school lunch menus, including emphasizing seasonal ingredients. Students have their say as well, and generally suggest a wide variety of good-for-them foods. As a result, students are known to go home from school and ask their parents to prepare what was served for lunch. One Tokyo school has published a cookbook filled with illustrated recipes of its lunchtime offerings.

In addition, Japanese students are generally taught to eat what they are served, both at home and at school. Most Japanese schools have no vending machines; and until students get to high school, they cannot bring their own food for lunch. So if a student doesn't eat what is served for lunch, they don't have a quick-and-easy-yet-unhealthful alternative.

Families pay for student lunches. Schools send home monthly bills, which usually work out to about $3 a meal for most students.

Schools are quick to point out as well that they have drastically cut food waste. One district in northern Tokyo said that it had cut the amount of food it threw away to 5 percent.

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