May 29, 2007


Cell Phones That Promote Weight Loss

By Pamela Mortimer


Public Health insurance offices in Osaka, Japan have launched a service that promotes using cell phones to promote weight loss.


As with most of the world, cell phones are, like it or not, a permanent fixture in Japan. Unfortunately, expanding waistlines are also a trend Ė one that public officials donít want to become a permanent fixture. In marrying the two, health officials have devised a plan to help those who need help with their health and weight by using their cell phones. The gist of the program is that people will use the cameras in their cell phones to take pictures of their food and send them off to nutritionists for an analysis and recommendations.


Asahi Kasei Corp., a Tokyo-based chemical and medical equipment manufacturer, has developed the system which is currently operating with about 150 health care providers and local governments around the country. The program was launched on a trial basis throughout public health insurance offices in the Osaka prefecture in western Japan. Approximately 100 cardiac patients signed up in the first year, closely followed by diabetics and those with obesity issues.


"Japanese have been getting fatter, especially men in their 20s and 30s, and there is concern over what they learned about nutrition when they were younger," said Satomi Onishi, an Osaka official. "We're hoping that this program can help us to get a handle on the problem."


Dr. Yutaka Kimura has developed a similar program at Kansai Medical University's Hirakata Hospital, also in Osaka. Program participants pay 4,500 yen ($37) to join and a monthly fee of 2,500 yen ($21) thereafter. Currently there are five participants who photograph their meals for three to seven days, then submit the photos to a nutritionist for review. In return, they receive an e-mails from the nutritionist containing analysis and advice.


"Patients used to fill out meal logs, but people tend to forget things or underestimate their portions," Kimura said. "Photographing meals and e-mailing them in is easier and gets more accurate results."


Japanís Health Ministry released a report last year that estimated that nearly 20 million of its citizens - approximately one in five women and more than half of men between 40 and 70 years of age - were at risk for many health conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Through the program, the Health Ministry hopes to see a 25% decrease in obesity. There are also hopes that other countries will follow suit.