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Healthier bodies needed to accompany longer life span

Kunihiro Kitano spoke about global health concerns, comparing statistics from several countries gathered by the United Nations 
and the World Health Organization.  |  William DeKay photo

Aging populations can be a drain on health care if they have a poor diet and lifestyle that leads to obesity and disease

The gap between a healthy life and a long life is widening, says a Japanese researcher.

“This is a problem,” said Dr. Kunihiro Kitano, chief co-ordinator for the Northern Advancement Centre for regional innovation strategy in Sapporo, Japan.

“This study shows that we are just making unhappy people live longer.”

Wilf Keller, president of Ag-West Bio, which hosted Kitano’s presentation at the University of Saskatchewan, said the choice of speaker was a conscious decision.

“Lets face it, if you want to bring someone in to talk about longevity, it has to come from Japan because they’re leaders in this area in terms of life span, diet and all these issues,” he said.

“There’s a lot of interest in Japan about diet, quality of food, and that’s very important to us in Saskatchewan and Western Canada because we continue to build our relationships with Japan in this area.”

Kitano’s presentation included epidemiological data compiled from a global disease study at the University of Washington, which compared health loss over time and across causes, age-sex groups and countries. Six surveys have been completed since 1990 for 188 countries and more than 300 diseases.

Japan has one of the world’s longest living populations. The average life expectancy in Japan for male and females is 84 years, while healthy life expectancy is 75 years.

In contrast, Canada’s life expectancy is 83 with a healthy life expectancy of 73.

Kitano said aging societies need to keep an eye on their scale of disease burden and should be concerned with the expanding difference between life expectancy and a healthy life.

The overall population in Japan is shrinking, but the number of people older than 70 is increasing with longer life expectancy rising.

One-third of the Japanese population will be older than 70 by 2050, compared to 20 percent in Canada, which remains a growing society.

Kitano said age specific dietary risk depends on the generation, and elders are more at risk because they are less apt to change eating habits.

“Germany eats a lot of processed and red meat, Japan has high sodium and the U.S. is high in sugar sweetened beverages,” he said.

“Eating habits is cultural, and drastic change is almost impossible,” he said.

“Every age has some kind of eating trend and risk.”

Quality of health in an aging population is motivating Japan to look for high functioning nutrition, which is motivating Kitano’s re-search to improve the value of products.

Examples include the different antioxidants and lipids found in food products.

However, Japanese people continue to be swayed by decorative packaging and don’t necessarily understand the nutritional value of contents compared to price.

“Many Japanese look for olive oil in fancy bottles because they think it’s the healthiest oil. However, the less expensive canola oil is better,” he said.

“The trend is Japanese people prefer to have some kind of fancy food. They don’t understand the function of oil.”

Keller said this information is important.

“If you can connect quality of food that’s proven scientifically, it could impact not only the age but the quality of life.”

Canada fairs well on disease charts, compared to France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.

The rate of cardiovascular disease and high systolic blood pressure has continually dropped in Canada since 1990 and is one of the lowest.

However, Kitano said that high body mass, diabetes and urogenital, blood and endocrine diseases are increasing globally.

“You eat too much,” he said.

Kitano said Canadian’s need to lower their body mass index and reduce total calorie intake. Diets should include more vegetables and fish.

“Balance of food is important. Timing of eating is important. Exercising is important.”

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