Alternative Measures of Health Information and Demand for Fats and Oils in Japan

By Kim, Sam-Ryang; Chern, Wen S. | The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Alternative Measures of Health Information and Demand for Fats and Oils in Japan


Kim, Sam-Ryang, Chern, Wen S., The Journal of Consumer Affairs


This study investigates the major factors affecting the demand for fats and oils under the possible influence of health information on fat and cholesterol in Japan. The fat and cholesterol information indexes based on diminishing effect schemes provide better measures of the changing health information on fat and cholesterol than the ad-hoc cumulative index. This study shows that increasing consumer health information appear to have reduced the consumption of hog grease, tallow, and palm oil, and increased the use of fish oil, but it has had no major impact on other vegetable oils yet.

The issues of diet and health have become major concerns not only for consumers but also for those involved in the food industry. Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that poor diet plays an important role in chronic diseases, contributing to increased morbidity and premature mortality. In particular, diets high in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol are closely associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease. Since researchers provided the initial link between saturated fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in the mid-1960s, vast medical and dietary studies have shown that high intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol raise serum (blood) cholesterol level, an important risk factor for coronary heart diseases. In particular, the 1988 report of the U.S. Surgeon General emphasized the positive correlation between dietary intake of saturated fat, increased serum cholesterol levels, and risk of coronary heart diseases (U.S. Department and Human Services 1988).

An increasing amount of health information about the adverse effects of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol has become available to consumers through such sources as health professionals (doctors and nutritionists) and mass media (news and advertising). Furthermore, consumer education programs, such as the National Cholesterol Education Program launched in 1986, can increase consumers' health risk information on fat and cholesterol.

In several demand studies of U.S. fats and oils (e.g., Yen and Chern 1992; Chern, Loehman, and Ven 1995), it has been found that the consumption of vegetable oils has been increasing while that of animal fats has been decreasing. Furthermore, increases in consumers' health risk information have induced significant substitutions of vegetable oils for animal fats. In contrast to the food consumption patterns in the U.S. and European countries, the Japanese diet has been heavily dependent on cereals (particularly rice), vegetables, and fish. This food consumption pattern indicates that Japanese consume relatively more carbohydrates and relatively less fat than American and European consumers. However, the Japanese diet has changed dramatically during the last three decades. With increasing westernization of eating habits and declining per capita rice consumption, nutrient fat intake, which traditionally was low, has been increasing, while the intake of carbohydrates, which was excessive in the past, has continu ed to decrease.

Similar to the findings in the U.S., vast medical and dietary studies in Japan have indicated that such westernization of the diet, particularly high fat intake, has raised serum cholesterol levels, an important risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Goto (1992) reported that serum cholesterol levels have significantly increased by an average of 15mg/dL during the last two decades. Also, serum cholesterol is higher in Japanese below age 30 than it is in Americans of the same age, while it is lower in Japanese above age 30 than it is in Americans of the same age. Goto also stressed that those findings are closely related to the fact that the Japanese mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases, particularly ischemic heart disease, has been greatly increasing.

As shown in Figure 1, the consumption pattern of fats and oils in Japan is similar to that found in the U. …

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