Japan has joined America in struggling with a national weight problem. Younger men in their 20’s and 30’s are most affected by the nation’s current fetish for bigger portions, more meat, and fried foods in place of their traditional fish and rice meals. For women, about 20 percent of those between 40 to 70 years old were at risk for obesity related problems, also called metabolic syndrome. The diseases included in this definition are high cholesterol, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. The Health Ministry hopes to relieve this problem by 2015 with a goal of reducing the number of people at risk for the problems associated with obesity 25 percent by that year. One technique that might work is a new program that has people take pictures of the food they are about to eat on their cell phones and e-mail them to nutritionists to analyze.

The idea of using cell phones to aid in weight loss is clever considering Japan is probably more dependent on them than the U.S. Developed by the Asahi Kasei Corporation in Tokyo, the program, known as Osaka, is easier than creating a meal log and more convenient. About 100 cardiac patients have participated in the first year of the program. Diabetes and obesity patients joined in during the second year. Now the system is operating in 150 health care providers and local governments around the country. If enrolled in the program, participants can photograph one meal to several weeks’ worth of meals for nutritional analysis and recommendations. They are also able to access a web site to obtain nutrition information and upload photos from their digital cameras.

The drawback to the program is that it takes three days to get the results of an e-mail, which means that the participants usually eat the meals before they can be told how much damage they can do. As the program continues, however, the response time will likely become more efficient. After all, when it comes down to basics, people don’t need to be told that they shouldn’t eat a fast food meal or a hefty dessert, especially if they’re already suffering from the effects of metabolic syndrome.

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