NAGOYA, Japan — Japanese children walk differently than kids from other countries — because of their healthy diet, according to new research.
They are among the healthiest in the world, eating raw or just lightly cooked fresh ingredients. Fewer than one in five are overweight and it shows in their gait, say scientists. Their findings have implications for abnormalities like “intoeing” and “outtoeing,” where the feet are not aligned with the legs.
“We believe differences in lifestyle, build and cultural factors all affect Japanese children’s gait,” says lead author Dr. Tadashi Ito, of Nagoya University, in a statement. “This is not likely to affect the health of Japanese children. But it does indicate characteristics different from those of children in other countries.”
Another significant reason could be school meals, an integral part of everyday life for Japanese children since 1889. Rice balls and grilled fish were given to children living in poverty in remote communities in the north. They are made from local ingredients, such as baked cod with sweet corn and bok choy, served with minestrone soup and a carton of milk. The program was expanded in the aftermath of World War II.
Ito and colleagues analyzed 3D data recorded by markers attached on the lower limbs of participants. Gait is a complex, unconscious motor pattern, essential for most daily activities. It comprises a sequence of movements that involve the hip, knee, and foot. From a medical point of view, gait is critical to measuring quality of life and health. The forces involved help treat people with movement disorders.
The study is based on 424 pupils recruited from two primary schools. It found patterns differed by age. There was an increase in cadence, the number of steps performed in one minute, among 11- and 12-year-olds compared to 6- to 8-year-olds. Results also reveal a reduction in step and stride in the former group compared to those aged 9 and 10. And they had less range of motion of the knee during the gait cycle.
As children aged, a higher “plantarflexion” was observed — the motion when you point your toes at the start of the walking movement.
“These results provide an important tool for assessing normal and pathological gait and can determine the effectiveness of orthopedic treatment and rehabilitation for gait disorders,” adds Ito.
Japan’s staple food is rice. The advantage of short-grain rice, preferably brown, or haiga partially milled rice, is it is water-rich when cooked, fluffy, and much lower in calorie density than bread or pasta. All that belly-filling rice might also displace less healthy foods, reducing the overall number of calories eaten.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Report by South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn.