The prevalence of diabetes has been on the rise in Japan in recent years. The increase can be ascribed to a sedentary lifestyle and increased fat consumption. Although obesity rates are lower in Japan than in the West, it is estimated that more than 12 million Japanese have high sugar levels. This means 7.14 percent men and 4.50 percent women have frank diabetes and the prevalence rate of prediabetes (impaired blood sugar levels) is 14.31 percent in men and 15.56 percent in women. This points to an increasing trend in diabetes in Japanese people.
There are many contributing factors for diabetes development in Japanese people including dietary patterns, physical inactivity, smoking and many others.
White rice is the staple food of Japanese people. Unlike brown rice, white rice is devoid of dietary fiber and vitamins. Dietary fiber and vitamins act as protective factors against type 2 diabetes. A study reported that a high intake of white rice increased the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Moreover, white rice is high in glycemic index, which is known to cause spikes in blood sugar levels, resulting in beta cell fatigue. In general, people who ate three to four servings of white rice per day were more likely to have diabetes than those who ate the least amount of rice.
The rice-based Japanese diet also lacks calcium-rich food, which was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, much research is required to prove the relationship between traditional Japanese food and diabetes development.
A new study has found that a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and the presence of a particular gene variant elevates the risk of type 2 diabetes in Japanese men. Men can modify the consequence of this new gene variant by being physically active. People who are highly active and restrict their calorie intake may avert the risk of type 2 diabetes.
A study conducted in Japanese people has shown that eating fast is correlated with the risk of new-onset diabetes. Generally, middle-aged men who were fast eaters with a high body mass index (BMI) and a large waist circumference were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Please note that the study was conducted in the general population and it does not apply to any individual or specific Japanese groups.
Japanese people and other Asian populations tend to have more visceral fat (extra body fat) and less muscle mass compared to individuals of other ethnic populations.
Historically, standard BMI ranges do not apply to people of Asian descent, especially in the normal weight range (18.5 to 24.9). Researchers suggest that Asians should be tested if their BMI is 23 or above.
Diabetes can be prevented or delayed, but only if people know they’re at risk and take action.
Lifestyle risks such as sedentary lifestyle, binge drinking and smoking can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
What are some of the lifestyle modifications that Japanese people can adopt to prevent diabetes?
Some of the lifestyle modifications that can help Japanese people prevent diabetes development include
- Exercising regularly at a moderate level for at least 30 minutes five days per week or more.
- Watching what they eat and reducing the amount of white rice and other processed foods they consume. Additionally, sticking to a low-fat diet that protects them against heart disease. Pairing rice with legumes, salads or fatty fish will improve the overall glycemic load of the diet.
- Keeping their weight within a healthy range. A body mass index (BMI) of 23 kg/m2 or greater is not appropriate for people of Asian descent.
- Seeing their doctor for regular checkups if they are in the high-risk group.
- Checking out cooking classes, health education or support programs to build good habits.
- Quitting smoking and drinking.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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