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State of health in Japan - statistics & facts

Before World War II, most fatalities of Japanese nationals were caused by infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and gastroenteritis. After the war, the number of deaths from communicable diseases significantly decreased thanks to the advancement of the health care system, better nutrition, and improved hygiene standards. The infant mortality rate also drastically declined, and the Japanese average lifespan extended to one of the longest in the world. Recent changes to the life expectancy of citizens in Japan are largely attributed to the postponement of death from non-communicable diseases in old age. As of 2019, the life expectancy at birth in Japan was 87.4 years for women and 81.4 years for men.

Causes of deaths in modern Japan

The main causes of deaths in modern Japan are malignant neoplasms, heart diseases, and cerebrovascular diseases, accounting for more than half of mortality in Japan in 2020. For both female and male Japanese, malignant neoplasms, especially lung cancer, remained to be the leading cause of fatalities over the years. Many of these diseases can be caused by lifestyle-related risk factors, particularly smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, lack of exercise, and poor diet. To facilitate the primary prevention of lifestyle-related diseases, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) in Japan enacted the updated basic health policy “Health 21 (the second)” in 2012. The policy set the concrete numerical targets for various categories such as the smoking rate, vegetable daily intake, and Body Mass Index (BMI) to be achieved by the end of the fiscal year 2022.

Aging society

Along with the high life expectancy, the relatively low fertility rate accelerated the rapid demographic aging of Japanese society. The share of people aged 65 years or older is estimated to reach close to 37 percent by 2025. This development dramatically increased the number of age-related health disorders as well as bedridden patients who suffered a stroke or bone fracture in recent years. Approximately 6.7 million people required long-term care or support in 2020, representing the record high in the last decade. While the number of long-term care patients is rising, hospitals and nursing facilities are constantly facing labor shortages. Furthermore, due to the high relative proportion of the elderly in the nation, the risks of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic for the Japanese population are disproportionally high.

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