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'Rich people's illnesses' and 'poor people's illnesses' - they differ, but you lose either way

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Junk food is easy, cheap, and not good for you. Vegetables are good for you and, increasingly, expensive. Does money buy health? Let’s put it this way, says Josei Seven (Oct 31): Yes – but the rich have their characteristic health problems too, and as to the shrinking middle class, its position between the proverbial rock and the hard place is in some ways the unhealthiest of all.

Postwar Japan prided itself on its wide and expanding middle class. Everyone could, and before long everyone would, belong to it. Gaping inequality would be a thing of the past – as it proved to be; but it was also, unexpectedly, a thing of the future, which is now present. Today’s rich and poor, growing wider and wider apart, eat differently, are educated differently, and live and work differently. Health is measured in many ways, and different measurements can contradict each other, but this one, courtesy of Chiba University medical professor Katsunori Kondo, is striking if not conclusive: the death rate among low-income people, those below 2 million yen a year, is two to three times higher than that among those earning 6 million or more.

Key to health is a balanced diet – but “a balanced diet costs money,” says Kondo. It also takes time, and who has it, nowadays? The rich have more of it, but even they are career-driven and leisure-deprived. At least they can afford quality food, which the poor often can’t. The instant substitutes – instant noodles, snack cakes and the like – lead to obesity, with its attendant risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, cerebral hemorrhage and bowel cancer.

Vegetables, which mean so much to the body and its organs, are increasingly absent from the plates of the poor. Disastrous weather has shrunk harvests and raised prices. To say nothing of typhoons – this summer’s relatively scanty sunshine in the Kanto region caused the humble cucumber to double in price. The rich can shrug that off. The poor can’t.

There are other aspects of the rich-poor health gap. A low income generates high anxiety – particularly if you’re over 65 and living on a pension. The low-income elderly suffer alarming rates of insomnia, Kondo tells Josei Seven. (Insomnia is prevalent even among higher-income elderly: 49 percent of them suffer from greater or lesser intensities of it, vs 60 percent of low-income elderly.)

Depression is also linked to poverty, though the rich are far from immune to it, as we shall see in a moment. Clinical depression is serious – it’s a factor in 60 percent of suicides; also in cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Low-income elderly are 5 times more likely to suffer from depression than higher-income elderly.

If we turn to the younger and financially better-off, who among them is most vulnerable to depression? Mid-level managers, Josei Seven hears from International University of Health and Welfare Professor Koji Wada. They are arguably the most stressed people in the nation – in the world in fact, says Wada, citing  Finland and Denmark as running Japan close seconds in that regard. Many of them are managers in name only, saddled with impossible quotas and exempt from overtime pay, though not from overtime labor. Women managers, says Wada – even high-income ones – are at heightened risk of breast cancer.

Middle-income earners enjoy at least the advantage of regular company medical checkups. Generally speaking, too, they can afford a balanced diet, though whether their work allows them the leisure for it is another question. Their biggest health challenge, Josei Seven finds, is immobility. The rich can exercise at sports clubs. Blue-collar workers work with their bodies – refreshing them, in effect, by physically exhausting them. The mid-level office worker, for hours on end, is chained to a desk, glued to a screen. Health-wise, everybody knows where that leads.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
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Excellent article.

It raises some very valid points - one is food prices in Japan, especially for vegetables. To protect LDP-voting farmers, food tariffs, and thus prices overall, are very high. If you want something cheap and nourishing, just hope that it doesn't grow in Japan (like a banana). If you want something that is grown in Japan, like an apple, pay 5 times much as the rest of the world. If you are really hard up in Japan, getting a balanced diet is a real struggle, even at discount supermarkets.

That stress leads to cancer and other illnesses is another side effect of Japan's near evil work culture. It is not just death from overwork, but illnesses that cans strike many years later, brought on by years of over-work through a manipulation of positive aspects of Japanese culture.

The Japanese business is ultimately just part of the capitalist system - the workers work ultimately for the benefit of the shareholders. This is not how it is portrayed internally, but more like a family enterprise, where you look out for your family members and do not take your holiday because it would mean pushing work onto others or "inconveniencing" them. If this is such a big deal, why don't the owners take a slightly lower profit and staff their company properly rather than throwing guilt onto people to give up their holiday.

Politicians and company owners have blood on their hands.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Vegetables can be obtained for cheaper prices with careful shopping. Buying in season, buying from farmer markets. Where we live many people are growing their own.

Like most other countries processed foods become cheaper than fresh foods and that drives poorer people to them. There are too many children suffering from poverty who might not be getting even one good meal a day except for their school lunch which is a very important meal for all of the children to ensure at least once a day.

Younger people are attracted to the western style fast foods which is effecting their health with more heart attacks. Children dying before their parents who had a life time of traditional foods.

Japan has one of the longest life cycles in the world but in the future that could drop with the consumption of fast foods.

There are probably 15-20 million people living below the poverty level. I think that is set at about earning less than ¥2 million. That includes many older retired people but the lucky ones have their homes at least.

It would be good if people could be educated to cook more for less and still have a healthy diet. Problem is that mostly people just follow whatever their parents did.

People living in the countryside eat more vegetables and we are given them frequently. This summer we received many bags of cucumbers, more than what we need to eat our normal way. I liquidiser them and used agar agar to make tasty jellies or mouses and gave them to the local people who had not thought to use them in that way. Very good to eat during the hot weather.

Buy vegetables when cheaper and freeze them.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Folks if you know where to shop and make the most of seasonal fruits and veg, Japan aint that bad. if your expecting a cheap apple at the local super yer dream on.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Folks if you know where to shop and make the most of seasonal fruits and veg, Japan aint that bad. if your expecting a cheap apple at the local super yer dream on.

There are cheaper options out there, particularly from the farmer market style places that you see in the countryside, but for the bulk of Japanese, these are hard to find.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There are cheaper options out there, particularly from the farmer market style places that you see in the countryside, but for the bulk of Japanese, these are hard to find.

Before moving to our current location in Tatsuno, we lived in Kobe City for 16 years and used many markets and farmer market.

Contrary to belief not everyone lives in Tokyo, Tokyo 12m, Yokohama 9m, Osaka 9m total = 40m out of 127 million.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

exempt from overtime pay, though not from overtime labor

Working OT without OT pay on a regular basis is nuts.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One crucial aspect to good health imo is to eat a lot of the right vegetables and fruits daily.

It may cost a bit, so so does a pack of chips or snickers bar cost over ¥100-¥150.

Loading some spinach, broccoli sprouts and some orange or red veggies on daily and not eating processed foods all day will change the way you are!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Vegetables are expensive in Japan. I think you can say that objectively. We live in the countryside and they are reasonable at the moment, but give it a couple of months for the snow to come and prices will rocket to urban Japan levels. They do every winter. Even winter staples like daikon, hakusai, and negi are expensive in midwinter. I'm like Ah_so and rely on the humble banana.

I read the article interested to see what the "rich people's illnesses" were, but it just mentioned stress and lack of exercise from overwork. They are conditions, not diseases. Many rich Japanese are rich from inheritances and are not salarymen. Some are wives of doctors, lawyers, etc. Do they have diseases?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

One solution I can think of is to invest in vitamins and buy "superfoods" like Chia Seeds that would take care of your nutritional gaps. Its not only in Japan that veggies are becoming more inconsistent to grow. Has anyone ever tried to grow their own crops even if its just at a small scale? Look up guerila gardening. I grow chili peppers at home and haven't needed to buy any ever since.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe it's just me, but paying a bit more for what you eat is way better than paying more in medical bills?

Has anyone ever tried to grow their own crops even if its just at a small scale? 

Yup. Asparagus, parsnips, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, nira, chives, carrots, turnips, beetroot, beans, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, courgettes, radishes, brussels sprouts, pumpkins, onions, salad leaves, spinach, mange tout, green peas, sweetcorn, negi, leeks, goya, blueberries, blackberries, herbs.

This year I'm going to attempt strawberries.

Grubbing about in the soil is very therapeutic, and having organic, pesticide-free produce to eat is an extra bonus.

rely on the humble banana

Ironic, isn't it? When I was a kid bananas were so expensive I could only have one if I shared it with one of my brothers, and we had to have bread with it to fill us up.

Invalid CSRF

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Unfortunately one of the negatives sides of living in this great country. Fresh fruits and veggies are abundant and cheap in my home country. Oh well, I'll take the good with the bad.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

...exempt from overtime pay....

That's one heck of a phrase. Like "benefit-resistant."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Farming in Japan is a very big issue, but an over-simplification goes along these lines:

Farming isn't a lucrative career, the farmers only charge what the market will bear and other organisations in the distribution chain make far larger profit margins than the farmers receive. A reduction in tariffs or subsidies will push many existing farmers over the edge and they will choose to sell off their land, most likely to be used for housing developments and never to be productive land again. Then Japan becomes more reliant on food imports and more vulnerable to external issues.

A comprehensive management program is required to look at amalgamating existing farms, encouraging people to choose farming as a career, improving access to labour saving technology and collective selling is required. It is easy to get a loan for a house or car, try getting a loan to start a farm and see what happens. Food prices in Japan can't simply be solved through a reduction of tariffs or subsidies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Keep life simple. Why does Japan use Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) , Ajinomoto... in so much of their food?

I am highly sensitive to it , Will take me out for two days. Which means it affects everyone . It is poison . Stop using it . Not necessary. It is poison . Throw it out.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Keep life simple. Why does Japan use Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) , Ajinomoto... in so much of their food?

This is not a problem if you don't buy processed foods, which are not good for you anyway. Buy fresh foods, and your problem is solved.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Living in the country I can grow vegetables much of the year. I often give some to friends, too. What I can't grow, when I want something different, I usually buy from a 100 yen shop. When I say 100 yen shop, I mean an unmanned stall by the side of the road. You leave 100 yen in a box and take a bag of fresh vegetables.

People living in big cities usually shop in supermarkets, where there are no truly fresh vegetables as after picking they were transported to a packing factory, shipped to a central distribution warehouse and then shipped to the shop. By the time they get to the shop, they are no longer fresh. As some people have observed, they are also no longer cheap.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Slimkona, MSG is naturally occurring in many vegetables, cheese, etc. Do you get sick every time you eat anything?

Back on the topic, even if you don't have lots of money, eating heathy should be a priority. Your finances won't get any better when you get various health problems.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I was trying to find the examples of being ‘rich and diet’,in the article-were there any?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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