Creating a healthy society

Professor Akiko Tamakoshi, from the Faculty of Medicine at Hokkaido University, specializes in Public Health. She has been involved in a number of public health research initiatives since her time as a doctoral student. She is passionate in discovering and popularizing lifestyle choices to reduce disease, leading to a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Professor Akiko Tamakoshi, PhD (Hokkaido University Center of Innovation – Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER)

Professor Tamakoshi reminisced about a major study she has been involved in, the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study for Evaluation of Cancer Risk (JACC Study). This study tracked 120,000 individuals across Japan for 20 years to identify relationships between lifestyle choices and incidence of different cancers, and other lifestyle diseases. As with similar studies from other countries, smokers were shown to have a high risk for lung cancer; in addition, they were at a higher risk of other types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Individuals who ate more vegetables were at lower risk of cardiovascular disease, while those who performed higher amounts of exercise regularly were at a lower risk of death overall. The findings of the JACC Study have been used by the Japanese government when formulating health policies.

Professor Tamakoshi elaborates on the crux of public health initiatives: “Just a knowledge of the risks does not change the behavior of people. For example, despite people knowing that higher amounts of exercise can improve their health, many people still fail to continue exercising. In Hokkaido in particular, the winters lead to an inevitable decrease in activity; so, we are working with locals to create places where people can exercise in winter. Thus, whether for increasing exercise, reducing smoking, or other desired changes, the cooperation of a number of people from various fields is required.”

Professor Tamakoshi interacts with students during a visiting lecture.

Professor Tamakoshi is currently involved in the ongoing Mother and Child Health Survey in Iwamizawa City, Hokkaido. The survey aims to improve the birth rate and support the health of mothers and children. Mothers and children are tracked from the birth of the child to assess the effect of lifestyle and dietary choices on the health of the child, following which appropriate medical advice may be given. “Studies of this scale require rigorous planning and communication,” she says. “We need to take into consideration the views and needs of the participants in the survey and those of the assisting medical staff, in order to achieve the goals of the survey. In addition, these types of surveys are conducted over the long term; the results require analyses, and are a guide to the next generation.”

For Professor Tamakoshi, there still remains much to do, and cooperation is key. “I look forward to collaborating with many more people to address more practical research issues,” she says.

Originally published in Japanese

Rearranged by Sohail Keegan Pinto

Featured image provided by Faculty of Medicine, Hokkaido University

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