Healthcare Economy

What Americans Can Learn About Why the Japanese Live Longer

Courtesy of Fuji Sushi and Sake Ba

The median age at death for residents of Japan is 84.5 years. In the United States though, it is just 76.4. Japan’s figure is one of the highest in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations. Meanwhile, the United States is in the bottom half among these nations, just below Croatia. Researchers believe they have the keys to why there is such a difference in longevity. Many of the factors can be controlled. (These are the happiest countries in the world.)

The Research

One of the most comprehensive studies of lifespans in Japan and the United States was published in Nature, a major scientific research collection. Most of the difference in longevity is due to diet, according to the research paper: “Why has Japan become the world’s most long-lived country: insights from a food and nutrition perspective.” In other words, Americans could live longer if they ate better.

The primary conclusion of the research is that “[t]he low mortality rates from ischemic heart disease and cancer are thought to reflect the low prevalence of obesity in Japan; low intake of red meat, specifically saturated fatty acids; and high intakes of fish, specifically n-3 polyunsaturated fatty.” The Japanese tend to eat plant foods and fish. However, the Japanese do tend to have one habit that lowers life expectancy. Many of them smoke.

Help for Americans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does provide research to help Americans be healthier. Among these is the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2020-2025.” One of its goals of this research is to increase the life expectancy of Americans. Among the advice is that eating fruits, vegetables, oils and protein foods, including beans, chicken and fish, are critical. The research also points out that a healthy diet is connected to obesity.


The CDC also publishes the effects of habits that shorten longevity. In most parts of America, over 35% of adults are obese. Obesity results in death due to its relationship with health outcomes. These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

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