TT-559 -- Flip Side of Metabolic Syndrome -- Being Too Skinny, ebiz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, March 28, 2010 Issue No. 559


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The week before last, Fast Retailing's Uniqlo brand said
that it is experiencing a big boom in women's fashion
leggings, and will be expanding its line-up from less than
10 styles last year to 107 styles this year. Uniqlo makes
thin but collectively massive margins from knowing what
consumers want, and this year they want the thin look --
so you can be sure that leggings, most commonly worn with
miniskirts, are going to be big this season.

OK, so big deal, the streets are going to feature some more
eye candy, but how is this meaningful to the rest of us
(i.e., women who don't wear leggings and almost all men)?
Well, we started thinking about those leggings and why they
are so popular. For sure the main attraction is that as a
young or young-at-heart female you get to show off your
legs without feeling embarrassed. This is certainly the
marketing message, and anyone with a bit of fat on their
thighs needn't buy them.

The thing is that we started noticing just how many girls
wearing leggings seem to be thin as rakes -- starved in
fact. And this made us wonder whether the advertising being
pumped out by the fashion and health industries isn't
actually causing consumers to have an increased rate of
eating disorders -- which are certainly are a problem
outside Japan, amongst young women in particular.

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[...Article continues]

Just look around you and you will realize that everywhere
in Japan the message to consumers is "skinny is in".
Skinny leggings, skinny fit jeans, even the government
wants us to be skinny with its anti-Metabo (Metabolic
Syndrome) campaign introduced in April 2008. Yes, being
obese is not healthy, but are we going too far in the
opposite direction?

According to the Health Ministry, the average weight of
women in their 30's dropped 12% over the period 1986-2006,
and now 20% of all women aged 20 through 40 are in fact
underweight. It's hard to believe, but the Ministry made
the point that at present Japanese women are now lighter
on average than they were after World War II when there
was a shortage of food!

The two main eating disorders contributing to excessively
low weight are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. With
anorexia, sufferers are critical of their own body
appearance and continually want to lose weight. Methods of
doing this include obsessive avoidance of fattening foods,
obsessive use of dieting aids, vomiting after a meal,
excessive use of laxatives, etc. Wikipedia says that
anorexics are the most likely out of people with
psychological disturbances to commit suicide -- and we
don't doubt that this fact contributed to the 26 or so
kids (mainly girls) who apparently died from the
condition in Japan in 2003.

Actually 2003 was a year of awareness of anoxeria in Japan.
Keio University did their first survey on the disease and
found that about 2% of all female high school seniors
suffered from the condition, although only 0.6% had
actually been diagnosed by doctors. Outside that 2%,
apparently another 10% were considered close to developing
the disorder. The survey was accompanied by a report noting
that excessive dieting for teenagers is more harmful to
their health than smoking and drinking, and that between
10%-20% of anorexics go on to early deaths because of
various bodily dysfunctions caused by semi-permanent

While one normally thinks of anorexia as a teenager
disease, the problem appears to be spreading to women in
their 40's and 50's as well. A 2008 Health Ministry survey
found that 12.6% of thin women with a BMI under 18.5 (only
20% of Japanese women are considered obese) are still
trying lose weight and that a full 52.6 percent of all
women consider themselves fat. Perhaps this is to do with
the fact that more women are staying single later in life
and therefore are still very susceptible to advertising

Dieting is of course a big business worldwide, and no where
more so than in Japan. Despite the recent economic downturn
the demand for diet aids and food supplements has continued
to grow. We don't have access to specific recent numbers
for the diet industry itself, but back in 2001 a Ministry
of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) council reckoned that
the functional health food market would be worth around
JPY3.2trn by this year and in 2005 the Kenko Sangyo
Newspaper estimated the market at that time to be worth
630bn. So it's probably a fair guess to say that functional
foods, much of which is taken up by the diet industry, is
probably worth at least JPY1trn to JPY1.5trn by now.

One sector of the dieting industry which certainly is doing
well is that of health metering equipment. Panasonic has
just introduced a calorie calculator called the Day
Calorie, and while they were expecting a few hundred sales
on introducing the new product on their website, in fact
they had requests for over 2,200 units. Needless to say,
Panasonic will be ramping up its manufacturing volumes.
Pedometers from Omron and other maker's exercise devices are
also selling well.

Weighing scales maker Tanita is already selling calorie
counters and apparently has sold more than 70,000 units
since April 2009. This April, the company plans to
introduce a super duper new device called the InnerScan 50,
which will measure weight, body fat percentage, muscle
mass, and the condition of your wallet... (ok, maybe not
the last bit). But the InnerScan WILL come with a memory
card that you can plug into your PC. Using the Tanita
application software, you can then obsessively monitor your
weight/fitness progress before and after using laxatives
and dieting powders. We think it will be a big hit.
According to the Nikkei, currently Tanita, Panasonic, and
other makers sell about 2.5m home-use health monitoring
devices a year.

So while we applaud the government's focus on trimming
waist lines so as to reduce (mainly men's) heart disease
and other later stage diseases, it is a fact that anorexia
can cause equally severe health problems, such as various
heart, blood sugar, bone, mental, and other malnutrition-
related conditions that shorten life span and put a load on
the nation's health system. Thus we find it strange that the
Health Ministry doesn't run a similarly high-profile
campaign to target women who are obsessed with keeping
their weight abnormally low.

And until that happens, we presume that Uniqlo is going to
be selling an awful lot of leggings.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Only 3 foreign nurses pass exam
- Chinese firm buys auto die factory
- Nikko Cordial to go on hiring binge
- Poll says economy expected to get worse
- More government money for SMEs

-> Only 3 foreign nurses pass exam

Two 26-year old nurses from Indonesia and one 34-year nurse
from the Philippines were the only foreign nurses to have
passed the national nursing exam in the last two years.
They received their pass notifications last week. The other
254 foreign candidates for the exam all failed, and now,
after 3 years of intensive work and study, these people are
facing the prospect of having to leave Japan and return
home. This is the second year of exams for the foreign
nurses, who are already fully qualified back home and who
have come to Japan under economic agreements with the two
source countries. Last year, none of the 82 candidates
passed -- sparking criticism of that the program does not
offer sufficient support for language learning. ***Ed: Our
understanding is that the foreign nurses only get 6 months
of language training, and then are expected to work full
time while learning Japanese in their spare time. As one of
the passing candidate nurses said, she studied until
01:00am every night to learn sufficient kanji to pass the
exam. It's ridiculous to expect someone in such a
physically demanding job to keep such hours.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Mar 27,

-> Chinese firm buys auto die factory

In what is going to be an ever-more frequent occurrence,
Chinese auto/battery manufacturer BYD has said it will buy
a factory from auto die maker Ogihara Corporation, for an
undisclosed sum. BYD says it will use the factory to
produce high-precision metal dies for its Chinese plants.
The factory was one of Ogihara's four domestic die
manufacturing operations, accounting for 20% of the
company's domestic production capacity. (Source: TT
commentary from, Mar 27, 2010)

-> Nikko Cordial to go on hiring binge

Since buying Nikko Cordial from Citibank, the Sumitomo
Mitsui Financial Group has decided to invest considerable
resources into the brokerage so as to anticipate a jump in
M&A and underwriting business in Japan. As a result, it
plans to increase its staffing by 14%, or 1,000 people, over
the next 3 years. Nikko Cordial is hoping that the staffing
investment will help it boost revenues from JPY14bn
currently to JPY100bn by 2013. (Source: TT commentary from, Mar 26, 2010)

-> Poll says economy expected to get worse

Oh, we're a depressed bunch. A Cabinet Office poll has
found that 63.1% of 6,210 adult respondees think that the
Japanese economy is going to get worse. Besides the
economy, 56.5% thought that employment and labor conditions
will also get worse, 47.6% said that government finances
will get worse, and 39.2% said that Japan will lose its
global economic clout. The same survey found that 20.7% of
respondees felt that science and technology are the most
promising fields for development in Japan, followed by
18.7% saying that medicine and welfare are promising.
***Ed: And you know what they say about the accuracy of
opinions of large groups... it's worth paying attention to
this survey.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Mar 27, 2010)

-> More government money for SMEs

As part of the measures by the government to help get
small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) back into
financial health, the Shoko Chukin Bank and
semi-governmental Nippon Export and Investment Insurance
(NEII) agency are going to start a program to help SMEs in
their export efforts. The program will allow SMEs with
export contracts to first insure, then finance, those
shipments by using the receivables as collateral. Loans
will be made at an interest rate of less than 1.6% for
one-year financing thanks to the fact that NEII will be
providing government guarantees on the exports. This
could be quite a broad-reaching effort, since NEII offers
about JPY130bn in trade insurance already to just 200 SMEs,
but now with the tie-up, it will take on Shoko Chukin
Bank's 70,000 customers. ***Ed: That's a lot of potential
liabilities coming up for the government over the next few
years. Also lots of scope for fraud, as in an export loan
situation it's hard to know what is going where and what
deals are real and which ones are not.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Mar 27, 2010)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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