Children living near Fukushima nuclear plant hit by obesity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 3:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 4:55pm

Children living near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant are the most obese in all of Japan, according to the ministry of education.

Ministry officials blame the increase in the number of overweight children on the fact that they no longer play outdoors as much as they did before the March 2011 disaster, and the impact on their lives of being evacuated to other parts of the prefecture.

The proportion of obese children in Fukushima was the highest in all of Japan's 47 prefectures in six of the 13 grades from kindergarten to the third grade of high school. Fukushima's proportion of youngsters at least 20 per cent heavier than the standard was above the national average in all 13 grades.

In the five years before the disaster at the nuclear plant, Fukushima children were at or close to the national average.

Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant, causing the melt-down of three of its six reactors, 56 public schools have limited the amount of time children were allowed to play outdoors.

Parents have been concerned about the long-term impact on their children's health. Those that have been able to move to another part of Japan have largely done so, but those who remained were reluctant to allow their children to play outside of the home. Ironically, those health concerns may be helping make the children fat.

National studies conducted across Japan indicate that young people are getting heavier in general, a result that experts link to an increasingly Western diet replacing a diet that was previously heavy in vegetables, fruit and fish, as well as children doing exercise less frequently.

The concerns of people who have remained in the prefecture will not have been eased by recent revelations that the prefectural government failed to closely monitor the progress of decontamination work at city-owned apartments.

Large bags containing dirt and debris collected from heavily contaminated areas were dumped by contractors in a park close to the apartments, where the children used them to climb on.

A study by the Mainichi newspaper determined that radiation levels near the bags was 2.23 microsieverts per hour, 10 times the legal limit set by the government. Waste has also been dumped close to schools.