Western food blamed for rise in Crohn's disease in Japan

Surge in cases of bowel syndrome blamed on shift from traditional diet of fish and rice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 4:59am

The rising consumption of Western foods is predicted to trigger a rapid increase in Crohn's disease among Japanese people more used to a diet that is heavy in fish, vegetables and rice.

A report by British research company GlobalData indicates that while 70,002 cases of the inflammatory bowel disease were recorded in Japan last year, stark changes in diet mean that figure is predicted to soar to close to 89,000 cases in 10 years.

That marks a projected increase of nearly 27 per cent, the company said, and compares to the average increase of 11 per cent across the 10 countries studied.

The other nations examined were China, India, the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Britain, France and Spain.

The second highest increase is expected in India, with a rise in incidents of 16 per cent, while Germany and Italy are both expected to record declines in the number of cases.

The report states the increase in the amount of fats and sugars consumed by Japanese people is the key contributing factor to the rise in the disease.

"There is no question that Japanese people are eating a lot more fats and saturated fats than they used to," said Craig Willcox, a professor at Okinawa International University .

There is no question that Japanese people are eating a lot more fats and saturated fats than they used to

"They also have a lot more meat in their diet, a higher proportion of milk products that were not really available previously and more bread," he said. "These are all sources of low-quality carbohydrates."

In Okinawa, the sweet potato used to be a staple foodstuff for many people just a couple of generations ago, he pointed out, but that vegetable has been "almost completely replaced by white rice, bread and noodles".

Along with an increase in Crohn's disease the change in the Japanese diet is being blamed for a series of other health-related problems, including a surge in intestinal and colon cancers.

"We are also seeing more problems related to high blood pressure, elevated levels of cholesterol and problems linked to inactivity," Willcox said.

"And that makes it a double-edged sword," he said. "People are consuming more saturated fats, low-quality carbohydrates and more energy-dense food, and that is leading to an explosion in obesity-related issues."