How The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Made Kids Fat

Kids in Fukushima are now the most overweight in Japan. Here's why.
DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

After a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, causing major meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, local schools restricted outdoor activities and parents (understandably) wanted to keep their children indoors. That’s had an unexpected consequence. Fukushima children 5 to 9 and 14 to 17 are the fattest in the country.

The education ministry released a nation-wide preliminary report last week, defining “obese” children as kids who are 20 percent heavier than average. In Fukushima, the obesity rate among 6-year-old boys was 11.4 percent, up from 6.3 percent in 2010. For 8-year-old girls in the prefecture, the rate doubled to 14.6 percent.

After the disaster, 449 schools set limits on how much time kids could be outdoors, and as of September, restrictions were still in place at 71 schools. But even in areas where radiation levels were marked safe, parents are still keeping their kids inside. The northeast area of Japan, where Fukushima is, typically tops obesity rates because of the harsh winters forcing people indoors, but it’s never been quite this bad.

Here’s the good news for those kids: dozens of indoor playgrounds are being built in Fukushima, giving them an outlet to work off some of that flab.