Health Science

Taro Yamauchi

Contributing to the Safety, Health and Happiness of Children in Developing Countries through Fieldwork

Taro Yamauchi , Professor

Faculty of Health Sciences/Graduate School of Health Sciences (Department of Health Sciences, School of Medicine)

High school : Tokyo Gakugei University Senior High School.

Academic background : Doctorate from Tokyo University

Research areas
Human ecology, international health studies
Research keywords
fieldwork, developing countries, traditional society, children, health, nutrition

What are you aiming to achieve?

Alongside our graduate students, we implement fieldwork within local societies in Asia, Oceania, and Africa, surveying the lifestyles and health of local residents. In contrast to the macro, top-down approach taken by international agencies and think tanks, we operate at a micro-level in local society, keeping our feet firmly on the ground and thinking about things from the perspective of residents in our fieldwork. Malnutrition and delayed development among children are problems in traditional societies and in agricultural and fishing villages in developing countries. At the same time, however, obesity and lifestyle-related diseases are also becoming more of a problem in urban areas. We aim to identify the problems behind these paradoxical health issues faced by developing countries through our bottom-up style of local fieldwork, analyze the current situation, and provide strategies to solve or alleviate such problems.

Photo 1 Children in the Solomon Islands

Photo 2 Children in Cameroon

Photo 3 Children in Indonesia


What sort of research are you implementing and in what sort of locations?

We began in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1993 and since then have implemented international fieldwork in 10 countries and regions. At present, graduate students from the department are involved in work in four countries in Asia (Indonesia), Oceania (the Solomon Islands), and Africa (Zambia and Cameroon), alongside various domestic and international research organizations. The projects are, briefly, as follows (Fig. 1).

1) Lifestyle and health of hunter-gatherers (Cameroon)

There are now few hunter-gatherers left throughout the world, and so we are surveying the lifestyle and health situation of pygmy hunter-gatherers. There is a lot we can learn from these people who live so closely to nature, and we hope to contribute to their health not only now but in the future.

2) Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and the nutrition and health of local residents (Zambia)

We are researching the overall impact of climate change on the regional society and residents in terms of physical build, nutritional state and growth, together with over 40 researchers from a range of other disciplines including soil science, agriculture, economics, geography, climatology and cultural anthropology.

3) Health and malaria mortality of local residents in an area recovering from ethic conflict (Solomon Islands)

These islands in the Pacific are experiencing swift economic growth and modernization. In 2000, ethnic conflict erupted in the capital city, putting a stop to the flow of development and resulting in many people returning to their former lives as sustenance farmers or fishermen. Since stability was restored, modernization has once again begun to accelerate. We are comparing data from pre- and post-conflict in order to understand the impact on the health of residents.

4) Physical build and fitness of children in rural villages and cities (Indonesia)

In line with economic development, urbanization is increasing rapidly. In rural villages there are still problems with children being too small and light for their age, but at the same time urban children are experiencing obesity and low levels of physical strength. Obesity and lack of strength in urban children in developing countries are becoming bigger problems than in developed nations, and so we are working with local researchers to develop prevention and alleviation strategies.

Fig. 1 Domestic partner organizations and international counterparts Photo 4 Children in Zambia

What are you aiming to do next?

Each year when Sports Day comes around in October, discussions take place on TV and in newspapers regarding how children are becoming less physically strong. It is well known that Japanese children are becoming physically weaker year by year. Physical weakness in children is linked to a tendency towards obesity, and this is a health problem that faces not only Japan but all developed nations, in addition to urban regions within developing nations. The sorts of changes in physical build and strength that are occurring in children in developed nations and urban areas of developing nations are not, however, being noticed in children living in rural areas of developing nations, where sustenance is a lifestyle and traditional society depends heavily on nature. Children of hunter-gatherers, for example, play in forests, where they also gain wisdom and learn skills.

The causes of childhood obesity and declining physical strength are clear. They include excessive nutrition, poor balance, and declining quality in meals, as well as a change in the quality of play and a reduction in the quantity of exercise they get due to differing locations and times for play, leading to a negative synergy. However, even though the causes are understood, we have not been able to stop this decline into obesity and reduced strength. This is because it is extremely difficult to change living environments and lifestyle habits. We are aiming to develop an approach and establish alleviation strategies from different perspectives than those that have traditionally been implemented, which require direct improvements in lifestyle.

The experience of overseas fieldwork has a huge impact on the outlook and world view of young people. I hope that many students will experience the fascinating, wonderful world of intercultural fieldwork.