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How Tanita Is Using Measurement Expertise to Change Human Eating Habits
November 28, 2016
Modern global nutritional problems derive from food excess as well as food shortage. Traditionally a first-world problem, obesity is now spreading to developing countries. Individual countries and companies are responding to the Sustainable Development Goal to improve nutrition. One unique employee cafeteria has sparked a huge movement to improve nutrition in Japan. The cafeteria is owned by Tanita, a leading global manufacturer of precision electronic scales and health-monitoring devices, and illustrates how the firm is using its renowned measurement expertise to develop total health services as a comprehensive health solutions company.
Tanita began manufacturing bathroom scales in 1959, as Japan began to experience rapid growth. People’s incomes were rising, most families started to take baths at home, and bathroom scales gained popularity as people became increasingly health conscious. In 1978, Tanita developed Japan’s first digital scales, and in 1992 developed the first scales capable of analyzing body fat just by someone standing on them, followed by many other industry-leading products. Today, Tanita boasts the No.1 market share in Japan for home precision body fat scales and body composition analyzers.
New business boosts branding and sustainable corporate growth
Being involved in the health-monitoring business, promoting good health among its employees is very important to the company. As a manufacturer of precision health analyzers that recognizes the close correlation between employee health and long-term corporate health, Tanita decided to try and improve the health of its own employees by introducing nutritionally balanced fixed lunch menus in its cafeteria. However healthy, to have a lasting impact the menus had to be enticing, filling and tasty. Each menu consisted of five items: a main dish, two side dishes, soup and rice (approximately 500kcal with less than 3g salt). The company uses spices, herbs and broths to ensure the fixed menus are full of flavor, and cut vegetables thickly to encourage frequent chewing. After some experimentation, the company successfully created an attractive and satisfying healthy cafeteria menu that got the thumbs up from employees.
The published series of employee cafeteria recipes was a best seller, selling 5.42 million copies. Tanita started opening public cafeterias offering identical meals to its employee cafeteria. The first was opened in an office district to encourage nearby businesspeople to incorporate the healthy menus as part of a consistent daily routine for maximum benefit. Regular cafeteria goers get to use state-of-the-art body composition analyzers for free, and receive personal advice on meals and exercise from registered nutritionists. The healthy menus and unique services resonated strongly with the public. The Tanita brand name became synonymous with health, which in turn has helped improve the company’s branding and strengthen competitiveness in the health monitoring business, as well.
From health measurement to health building
Today, Tanita focuses on developing comprehensive health-promotion services using digitally linked health-monitoring devices. It is hard to change people’s behavior simply by measuring body conditions, however advanced the precision device. The Tanita Health Program stores data measured by its analyzers, such as daily calorie consumption, body composition and blood pressure, on Internet-linked dedicated servers. Changes in a user’s physical condition can be visualized and checked via PC or smartphone. Medical experts can also use the data to offer health guidance. This system was originally developed for Tanita employees; since its introduction, the company says annual employee medical expenses have decreased by approximately 9 percent and the ratio of employees with appropriate BMI (18.5-25.0) has increased by 5 percent. Since 2014, the system has been customized to suit individual customers including companies, organizations and municipalities, and over 100 systems implemented.
Municipalities are especially interested in Tanita’s health program. According to WHO’s “World Health Statistics 2016,” Japanese people enjoy the longest life expectancy in the world, with an average lifespan of 83.7 years, while the nation’s healthy life expectancy is about 10 years less than the average lifespan. The cost of medical treatment for the nation’s citizens has hit new records for the past 8 years. National and local governments pay a portion of an individual’s medical costs in Japan, so the pressure from rapidly rising medical costs on public finances is considerable. Reducing lifestyle diseases and promoting good health is an urgent issue.
Right now, the major benefits of Tanita’s health program are controlled medical expenses at appropriate levels, and improvement in the ratio of employees with appropriate BMI. The company is now considering ways to assess the program’s health-promotion benefits in terms of increased employee productivity and effective management. If it can achieve that, the health program will likely transform from a single employee welfare program into an indisputable cost-effective investment for all companies, everywhere.