Q Why do the Japanese live so long?

A According to a survey carried out by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the average life expectancy of the Japanese in 1995 was 76.36 years for men and 82.84 years for women, the longest in the world for both men and women. The average life expectancy immediately following the war in 1947 was 50.06 years for men and 53.96 years for women, marking a remarkable gain that even exceeded economic growth.

It is not easy to come up with reasons for this remarkable gain in life expectancy, but one of them is the improved diet. Diet throughout the world can be broadly classified under two large headings. The first is the diet of the advanced nations of the West which is low in carbohydrates and high in animal protein and fat. The other is the diet of the developing countries which is high in carbohydrates and low in animal protein and fat.

Economic development enabled Japan to evolve from a developing country to an advanced nation, but owing to its traditional Japanese diet of rice as its staple food, its diet stabilized at an ideal nutritional balance.

The second reason is the advancement of medical science. There are now cures for tuberculosis, pneumonia and gastroenteritis, which until recently were the three main causes of death of the Japanese.

The third is the establishment of a health insurance system which is an important factor that enables anyone to receive affordable medical care anytime.