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Japanese waistlines grow wider
Fast food meals, busy lifestyles, less exercise add flab to waistline

Chiaki Tsukumo / Associated Press
Takao Chikubu has his body fat measured at Sports Medicine Research Center at Keio University in Yokohama, Japan.
By Joseph Coleman / Associated Press

    YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Graduate student Satoshi Okada finds himself at fast-food joints too often these days, hunched over a calorie-packed meal of teriyaki burgers and fries.
    The result? He's one of a growing new breed in Japan: the overweight man.
    "In short, I eat a lot," said Okada, 22, who's now in a weight-loss program at his university to shed some of the 191 pounds he has amassed on his 5-foot-8 frame.
    Okada's not the only one. Recent studies confirm what meets the eye: Japanese men, after centuries of staying trim on a lean cuisine of fish and seaweed, are getting flabby round the middle.
    The shocker came in May, when the government announced that one in three Japanese men in their 30s is at least slightly overweight. Heft is also rising for men in their 20s and 40s.
    The results were a jolt in Japan, where a scrumptious night out has traditionally meant slices of raw fish and vinegar-laced rice instead of filet mignon with potatoes and sour cream.
    But times are changing, and so is the Japanese palate.
    McDonald's and local imitators dole out burgers and fries across the country. Increasingly popular convenience stores sell stacks of oily "lunchbox" meals. Affluence means more beef -- and more cholesterol.
    The changes have hit men especially hard. Young women in Japan actually are getting thinner, from a rash of dieting and -- some doctors say -- an inactive lifestyle that has led to undereating.
    But men typically spend their days in rat race jobs, wolfing down lunch and dinner on the run, then going out after hours with colleagues and clients to suck down another belly-busting favorite: beer.
    Doctors are worried the trend will lead to higher incidences of the obesity-related sicknesses so prevalent in the West.
    "If the Japanese continue this lifestyle, you'll see a lot more people with diabetes," said Dr. Fuminori Katsukawa of the Sports Medicine Research Center at Keio University in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.
    While the traditionally salty Japanese diet has caused hypertension for centuries, high-blood pressure cases these days are increasingly caused by clogged arteries, he said.
    But fatness has a positive image, too, in Japan. Sumo wrestlers lead glamorous lives and often marry models and actresses. A recent TV show depicted a sweaty, obese office worker as an endearing symbol of hard work and suffering rather than sloth. A young -- and slim -- office woman falls in love with him.
    But in the harsh peer pressure world of children and teens, being the fat boy out can be costly.