Issue of the Day

Eating disorders are killing women in Japan who aren’t getting enough help


1 in 200 American women suffer from anorexia. In Japan, the numbers could be worse. (evelynized/Flickr)

Countless obstacles stand between a young woman with an eating disorder in Japan and effective treatment. Whether it be stigma or little access to care, people are suffering in silence with few options.

What's been going on?

The plight of many eating disorder victims has come to light in Japan. One Japanese girl who went by Motoko told her story to the BBC.

"I hated being chubby when I was a kid ... The other kids bullied me so I always wanted to change."

Motoko had a severe eating disorder by age 16 and would restrict how much she ate and then aggressively exercise. In just a couple years, she had dangerously shrunk, but her parents were no help.

"They were negative about my illness ... When I tried to see my doctor, they told me not to ... My mother felt responsible, perhaps my father blamed her too."

Her story reads like so many others around her. In fact, stigma is a huge impediment to sufferers getting help. As Dr Aya Nishizono-Mahe of The Japan Society for Eating Disorders explained:

"They see actions such as binging on food and then vomiting (bulimia) as shameful ... They feel they have to hide it. Parents may think they are wasting food so that might stop them seeking help."

So, what are people doing about this?

The government is now taking some action and trying to create services for victims and figure out just how many people have eating disorders.

In 2014, only 10,000 people were in treatment for eating disorders in Japan compared to 725,000 in the UK (a nation with half the population of Japan).

The Deputy Director of the Ministry of Health Takanobu Matsuzaki said the government is taking the issue seriously.

"We want to achieve widespread public recognition of eating disorders ... We hold symposiums for the public and we publish information on our website to tell people about the programmes we offer ... We want to set up local systems of support where their illness can be picked up early so people can be helped sooner."

Also, there's now a plus-size girls magazine called la Farfa circulating in Japan (its the only one of its kind).

Still, with the prevalent and misguided ideal of "skinny is beautiful," eating disorders will be a difficult problem to combat.

Get Kicker in your inbox!
Eating disorders are killing women in Japan who aren’t getting enough help

Samantha Rhodes

Samantha is a senior at Georgetown studying English and studio art. She has written for USA TODAY College, The Hoya, DC Life Magazine, and Smithsonian, among others, and is the current co-editor-in-chief of Georgetown campus publication Venture Capitol, which covers entrepreneurship and startups in DC. When not reporting or shooting with her Nikon, she's surrounded by books on Greek mythology and neuroscience or listening to tech podcasts on her way to Bikram yoga.

Share your comments