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Japan is a global model for healthy diets, FAO Director-General says

FAO names prominent Japanese journalist and renowned chef as goodwill ambassadors

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano/
Scenes from a food market in Japan. Japanese people have the lowest obesity rate among developed countries.

10 May 2017, Tokyo - Japan has a very unique food culture that can greatly contribute to improvements in global nutrition, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today during his visit to the country.

"Japan is a global model for healthy diets," he said. "Japan currently has the lowest rate of obesity among developed countries. You are below four percent."

Graziano da Silva noted how Japan has a healthy and "unique" food culture, one that includes many vegetables, fruits and fish.

He cited Washoku, a comprehensive set of skills, knowledge and traditions relating to the preparation and consumption of food, which has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Washoku is based on a "respect for nature" and is composed of fresh, seasonally available, low-fat ingredients, which together represent a well-balanced diet.

The FAO Director-General made the remarks during a visit to Tokyo's Sophia University.

He noted that Japan has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with other countries - an interaction FAO is keen to promote as an activity related to the United Nations Decade on Nutrition.

The Decade aims to address poor dietary habits, which have been closely linked to non-communicable diseases  - including heart attacks strokes, cancers and diabetes -  a leading cause of premature death, not only in high-income countries, but also increasingly in many parts of the developing world. These diets are typically not only unhealthy, but environmentally unsustainable.

In this context, Japan exemplifies how effective public policies and legislation can promote adequate nutrition, especially through laws aimed at educating children and controlling adults' weight, the FAO Director-General said.

Such measures, are in line with commitments made by world leaders at the 2014 Second International Conference on Nutrition and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to establish national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and transforming food systems to make nutritious diets available to all.

Japan's strong contribution to FAO's work in developing countries and crises areas

In his address, Graziano da Silva praised Japan for supporting developing countries through FAO in the areas of food production and consumption as well as with regards to the agricultural sectors, including forestry, fisheries, livestock, land and water.

For example, in Afghanistan, Japan has contributed more than $100 million to FAO's agricultural interventions, especially with efforts to rehabilitate the country's irrigation infrastructure.

In Myanmar, funds from the Japanese government have helped FAO deliver emergency and livelihood-rebuilding assistance - including high-quality seeds and fertilizers - to rural households affected by flooding and conflicts.

In Tokyo, Graziano da Silva also attended a tasting event hosted by the Government of Japan where he enjoyed sweets made using fruits produced in Fukushima Prefecture. In March 2011, Fukushima in the northern part of Japan was hit by earthquakes and tsunami that caused an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Today, the FAO Director-General noted how the Government of Japan is making its utmost effort to recover from the disaster. "At the moment, there is no reason to raise concern over food safety. Inspections are continuous, a monitoring system is in place, and international protocols are being followed," he said.

FAO National Goodwill Ambassadors for Japan

During his visit, Graziano da Silva also announced the appointment of Hiroko Kuniya and Katsuhiro Nakamura as the first-ever FAO National Goodwill Ambassadors for Japan. In this position, they are expected to play a role in promoting FAO's development messages.

Ms Kuniya became well-known as a television news-anchor for the NHK Japan network, including on the acclaimed "Today's Close-Up" programme, covering poverty, hunger and other social issues. More recently she has worked as a journalist covering topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr Nakamura initially became famous as the first Japanese chef to receive a One-Star Restaurant recognition by Michelin in 1979 in Paris. He later returned to Japan and in 2008 was named head chef during the G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido. He is a founder of The Ryori Volunteer no Kai (Food Volunteer Group) of which member chefs voluntarily visit disaster areas in Japan and serve food. They also hold charity dinners in Tokyo to collect funds for people in need.

Earlier today, the FAO Director-General also attended the launch of the FAO Parliamentarian Friendship League in Japan.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, former Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries from 2012 to 2015, will serve as the chairman of the League. He and some 40 parliamentarians gathered to exchange views with the FAO Director-General. The UN agency looks forward to working with the League to "promote nutritious food including in neighbouring countries and regions," Graziano da Silva said.

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