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Drowning in Health-Food Fads

January 28, 1999

Television and magazines are overflowing with news about what is "good for you." All it takes is a few articles claiming "Drink cocoa for good health!" or "Red wine is good for you!" to convince the public, and a new craze is created. Perhaps it is because so many people lead hectic lives and have lost confidence in maintaining their own health that many experts are sounding an alarm against the recent tendency to believe that one can become healthy simply by ingesting a single item.

Health Info a Big Draw for TV, Magazines
The trailblazer in health-information programs on television is Japan Television's Omoikkiri Terebi. A two-hour program starting at noon on weekdays, Omoikkiri Terebi devotes more than an hour nearly every day to health-related news.

Launched in 1987, the show originally covered a range of topics including travel and entertainment news. Starting in about 1990, however, viewer response prompted the program to start taking up health-related issues, which by 1992 had become its mainstay. As Omoikkiri Terebi packed in more health-related content, it watched its program ratings climb from about 5% to more than 10%--making it one of the most popular programs in its time slot.

Fuji Television's Fuji Television's Hakkutsu! Aruaru Daijiten, appearing at 9:00 on Sunday nights, started off as a show on fashion, food, and lifestyle. Now, focusing mainly on food, this program has re-tailored itself, not merely teaching people how to cook tasty dishes but explaining which components of everyday foods promote sound health. By tracking audience concern and shifting from "what tastes good" to "what's good for you," the show has won top audience ratings in this highly competitive time slot. Hakkutsu! Aruaru Daijiten now claims 21.8% of the greater Tokyo area audience, making it the number-one show there, and a strong 27.5% of viewers in the Kansai area centered on Osaka.

Health-related information is also a hot topic in magazines. March 1998 saw the release of a specialty journal that calls itself "a new health magazine for businessmen." Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry had long held that middle-aged businessmen do not read health magazines, but this changed when the magazine came out with a whopping 100,000-copy print run for a male target audience in their thirties and forties. An organization that conducts surveys on the publishing industry notes that there was a publishing rush of health-related magazines starting in 1997 and continuing into 1998, resulting in an increase of total copies sold monthly in this genre from approximately 1.2 million in 1995 to 1.8 million in 1998.

This Information May Be Hazardous to Your Health
People are leaping one after another into this deluge of "what's good for you" information. Japan's "cocoa boom" is a legendary case in point. When Omoikkiri Terebi announced that cocoa contains components that prevent hardening of the arteries, the public went wild and within six months bought out Japan's entire supply of cocoa.

One food journalist analyzes this hype over health by saying, "what with the simultaneous popularity of instant foods and health supplements, people ingesting too much fat and sugar while not exercising enough, and the growing concern over cancer, high blood pressure, and other so-called middle-age diseases, people are ready to jump at any fad that promises better health."

An expert on nutrition points out that "recent health-related information emphasizes only the good aspects of foods and tends to make bold claims about things that have not yet been clarified." Cocoa, for example, contains equal parts of oils that lower cholesterol levels, raise cholesterol levels, and do not affect cholesterol levels at all. Simply stating that cocoa contains components that lower blood cholesterol, while ignoring the overall effect of the food, is not healthy advice.

One must avoid swallowing whole this jumble of both reliable and unreliable information. Most specialists recommend a good balance of seasonal foods and suggest that people eat until they are about 80% full. They generally agree that common-sense eating habits are the best way to remain healthy.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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