The decline in BMI among Japanese women after World War II
The body mass index (BMI) of the Japanese is significantly lower than is found in other high-income countries. Moreover, the average BMI of Japanese women is lower than that of Japanese men, and the age-specific BMI of Japanese women has decreased over time. The average BMI of Japanese women at age 25 decreased from 21.8 in 1948 to 20.4 in 2010 whereas that of men increased from 21.4 to 22.3 over the same period. We examine the long-term BMI trend in Japan by combining several historical data sources spanning eleven decades, from 1901 to 2012, to determine not only when but also how the BMI decline among women began: whether its inception was period-specific or cohort-specific. Our nonparametric regression analysis generated five findings. First, the BMI of Japanese women peaked with the 1930s birth cohort. This means that the trend is cohort-specific. Second, the BMI of men outpaced that of women in the next cohort. Third, the BMI of Japanese children, boys and girls alike, increased steadily throughout the 20th century. Fourth, the gender difference in the BMI trend is due to a gender difference in the weight trend, not the height trend. Fifth, these BMI trends are observed in urban and rural populations alike. We conclude that the BMI decline among Japanese women began with those who were in their late teens shortly after World War II.
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