April 21, 2007 / 1:28 PM / 11 years ago

Supersize food invades Japan, but will it conquer?

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO, April 20 (Reuters Life!) - Japan’s centuries-old less-is-more approach to eating — tiny portions, elegantly arranged to feast the eye as much as the stomach — is being challenged by an invasion of supersize fast-food, American-style.

Mega Mac burgers at McDonald’s, giant pudding servings and mammoth packets of instant noodles are tempting consumers in a country whose moderate serving portions have often left foreign visitors wondering when the main course would arrive.

The Godzilla-sized creation — four meat patties layered between three slices of bun with cheese and lettuce — joined McDonald’s menu from January for a limited period and is back for brief cameo appearances after proving more popular than expected.

“It’s tasty, but hard to eat,” said Takanori Nakayama, 32, a self-employed businessman, after sampling a Mega Mac, which at 350 yen ($3) is more than triple the price of a regular burger.

The high-calorie, supersize phenomenon — dubbed “gutsy food” by Japanese media — goes against the grain in Japan, where mums traditionally urged their kids not to join the “clean plate club” but to “stop eating when you’re 80 percent full”.

It also comes as Japanese waistlines are bulging, the result of a shift from a diet heavy on fish, rice, tofu and veggies to a more Western-style menu of meat, snacks and sweets.

Overweight adults are still far rarer in Japan than in the United States. Just over one in five Japanese aged 15 and older are overweight compared to nearly three out of four Americans, a Forbes survey based on World Health Organization data showed.

But the trend is definitely up, at least for Japanese men.

Almost 33 percent of men aged 40-49 were overweight in 2004, compared to around 23 percent in 1980, health ministry data show.

Weight worries have sparked a sort of national obsession with “metabolic syndrome”, a condition characterised by excess fat around the abdomen, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Stress induced by trying to eat healthy may be one reason why mega-portions appeal, experts say.

“In an era when people are worried about overeating, to eat something supersize is fun,” said Hikaru Hayashi, a researcher at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living.

The mega-food fad, though, may be just a flash in the pan.

“I think since so many Japanese are worried about getting fat, supersize portions won’t catch on that much,” Hayashi said. Takehiko Ohzeki, professor and chairman of Pediatrics at central Japan’s Hamamatsu University, who has conducted research on overweight Japanese kids, was hopeful that would prove true.

“People are growing more aware of ... the risk of metabolic syndrome, so such food may not become so popular,” he said.

High school student Ryuji Takeda, 16, had a simpler reason for shunning the towering Mega Mac, as he munched a regular burger and fries with his friends in a Tokyo park recently. “It’s too big,” Takeda said.

“I don’t think I could get my mouth around it.”

((Editing by Miral Fahmy, Reuters Messaging: linda.sieg.reuters.com@reuters.net; 81-3-3432-8617; linda.sieg@reuters.com)) Keywords: JAPAN SUPERSIZE/

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