The Numbers Don't Add Up

By Paul Yamaguchi

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

The United States spends 16 percent of its GNP on health care, while Japan spends $261 billion (Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare/MHLW), or 6 percent of its gross national product (GNP) on national health care each year. In fact, Japan spends the least on healthcare costs among developed nations.

Healthcare spending per person in the US is $3,925 (WHO-World Health Organization) per year, compared with $2,050 (MHLW) for per capita Japanese spending. Some say the reason for the high cost of healthcare in the US is due to better treatments, the use of high-tech equipment, sophisticated tests and expensive drugs. If this is true, why don’t Americans live as long as the Japanese? Japanese life expectancy is the longest in the world, while according to WHO, the US is ranked 33rd in the world. What’s wrong with this picture?

Food Supplement Connection

How can the Japanese have lower healthcare costs and longer life expectancy?

Is it the air? From a personal, non-scientific perspective, the air in the US is cleaner than it is in Japan.

Is it the water? Probably not, since, in fact, the consumption of bottled water is higher in the US.

Or is it the food we eat or preventive food supplements the Japanese take? Each Japanese spends $166 on nutraceuticals per year which is higher than in any other country. Is there a connection between lower healthcare cost, longer life expectancy and higher consumption of food supplements? Perhaps.

A Different Picture

To discover more about the connection between food supplements and life expectancy, I examined the types of food supplements typically consumed in both Japan and the US.

Royal jelly, chlorella, propolis and bifidobacterium are among the top selling non-herbal food supplements in Japan. (Nutritional Supplements Japan 2003). In the US, glucosamine and chondroitin, co-enzyme Q 10, and fish oil/fatty acids are best sellers. (The Natural Foods Merchandiser) In the herbal category, prune, panax ginseng, aloe kidachi arborescebs and turmeric are among the top sellers in Japan, while in the US, Echinacea, garlic, ginkgo biloba and saw palmetto are best sellers.

The Japanese prefer to use food supplements with general health, maintenance and prevention in mind. US consumers frequently buy supplements seeking cures or with particular condition treatments as their goal. A national Japanese nutrition survey conducted by the MHLW in 2002 shows the top reason why the Japanese use food supplements is for the “prevention of diseases and maintenance of good health.”

Perhaps the Japanese know something Westerners don't know about the secret to a long life…

I’ll talk more about the current food supplement environment in the next issue.

Please stay tuned.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY. His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports, including Nutraceutical Japan 2003, Nutritional Supplement Japan 2003, Functional Foods and FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) Japan 2003. For details and information on the reports, visit: or contact Paul at [email protected]

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