Why are South Korean and Japanese people so healthy?
I don't know enough about South Korea but I have lived in Japan and know the culture well. There are traditions and cultural expectations that help:
· Everyone walks everywhere. Even if you take public transportation, you often have to walk a while to get to the station and/or go up/down stairs to get to the correct platform. Generally, driving is used only if you have to travel far. That also means that you have to go out frequently and walk around to run errands and shop for groceries.
· Good diet/nutrition is strongly emphasized (from childhood). There is a tradition of eating modest amounts of several different things (miso soup, rice, pickles, vegetable side dishes, protein dish) for each meal, and vegetables/seaweed are considered very important parts of the diet. Children eat lunches served by the school cafeteria, so they have access to nutritionally balanced lunches. Parents (often mothers) are expected to serve balanced, nutritious, appetizing meals with vegetables, protein, and carbs (typically plain rice) -- you see a microcosm of this in bentos (lunch boxes).
· Lighter diet in general: Home-cooked meals are the standard, not eating out -- traditionally, housewives/mothers are charged with preparing good home-cooked meals. Traditional home cooking relies on vegetables and lean protein with limited use of oil / added fats, and the diet is way less rich compared to what I find in the U.S.
· Seasonal produce is cherished in Japan. There are seasonal dishes according to what's in season, and fruits are popular as desserts, snacks, and gifts.
· Serving sizes are smaller. When my Japanese relatives visited the U.S., they could not get over how huge the portions were -- "two people's worth!!" I personally didn't find Japanese portions particularly small, either, but there was definitely a greater variety and more vegetables packed into each meal.
· Getting outside and socializing is considered healthy and important, especially in terms of admiring nature, joining family gatherings/festivals/events, etc.
· Keeping active is prized (and being lazy is not). Even in older age, walking, stretching, and doing things around the house are expected. The Japanese keep busy with a lot of regular cleaning, errands, and various housekeeping tasks -- the elderly tend to prefer staying in their original homes, and their children tend to be busy working people, so they just continue to do everything on their own.
· Probably good genes x environment interaction -- I think most Japanese would find it quite difficult to become obese, partly because of genetics and partly because of the diet and the activity level they are used to. They are not used to a richer diet, and even though processed food is common nowadays, the Japanese still find comfort in homestyle dishes. Moreover, there is a culture of walking around and keeping busy around the house. That makes it easier for them to stay reasonably in shape.
I'm sure there are more, but these are some possibilities.
Michael Jun, studied at University of California, Berkeley
Michael Jun, 结业于加州大学伯克利分校
South Korean men aren't healthier than the average men in the industrialized countries. The Korean and Japanese women do however live a very long life. (World Health Statistics 2014) The reason probably is that about 2/3 of adult South Korean men smoked only a few decades.
(1) Low Calories
South Korean food is not perfect but even the Korean junk food is healthy in comparison with the average American diet. Many Korean junk food don't use frying or oil and use spices instead of sugar for flavoring. This is due to the reason that sugar was nearly unavailable in old Korea and honey was very expensive. So the Korean cuisine developed without sweetener at hand. Also, red meat is relatively expensive so people are forced to eat more fish which were more plentiful and plant proteins such as beans and tofu. Soy beans naturally fertilized the soil by fixing nitrogen so they were growing in abundance. Also, carbonated drinks are not part of the Korean meals- Korean restaurants give you water for free but charge money for soda.