A Place for Co-Creation with Full Diversity

University News | July 20, 2022

This article was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Litterae Populi. The full issue can be found here.

The Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center was launched in FY2013 with the aim of realizing a healthy society. Since November 2021, it has worked with the new Life Design Co-creation Center for the Mind and Body to create a society in which everyone can live happily while further developing its past efforts. A new challenge has begun, looking ahead 10 to 20 years into the future.

“emmy fes.: event 0” in December 2021 (in a hybrid format of online and in-person communication). Professor Akiko Tamakoshi of Hokkaido University speaks during a talk session under the theme of Social Needs and R&D. She serves as the research leader for the Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center.

A society where mothers and children can live in good health and with peace of mind. The Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center develops industry-academia-region collaborative activities at the Global Research Center for Food & Medical Innovation in the Hokkaido University North Campus. Adopted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) as a Center of Innovation (COI) in FY2013, it has been established with the University of Tsukuba and Kitasato University as satellite sites, more than 10 universities and research institutes, over 30 food- and health-related companies, and local governments in Hokkaido and Iwamizawa City.

Smiles for the community

“We are striving to create a society where everyone has a smile on their face,” says Visiting Professor Masanori Yoshino, project leader of the Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center. Its goals are to reduce the number of children born with low birth weight, to make mothers and children healthier through food and exercise, to realize a society that is friendly and enjoyable for mothers and children, and to overcome the problem of declining birth rates by reducing the burden of child rearing.

Traditionally, hospitals and other medical institutions have played a central role in managing health information. If this information can be shared with households and governments, and if information on optimal diet and exercise tailored to each individual’s health condition can be provided, it will help prevent disease and reduce the burden of medical treatment. Creating a system that supports local health management leads to business opportunities. Researchers from diverse fields such as health, medicine, food, hygiene, information and communication gather here to implement a system that provides society with a rich living environment.

Logo mark for the Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center. The Chinese character for “life” (命) is used to symbolically express the idea of “healthy living.”

“We see and notice new phenomena, set challenges, and create new sciences. We wanted to attract such researchers. People change, as do societies and universities. It is human resource development in a broad sense,” Dr. Yoshino says. The Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center is expected to play a key role in connecting residents, local governments, and companies. “Natural science is not very good at reaching out to people and society. I think many of our staff members were at a loss at first about how to proceed with their research, but now they are all working freely and happily,” he says.

Bring what you can’t do

“At university, researchers tend to bring their expertise to the table and try to accomplish something. But in this attempt, residents bring what they can’t do and what they are having trouble doing,” he says. Dr. Yoshino’s aim is to create a place where people can easily bring anything they like, and to reflect the needs of residents in industry and government. For example, in Iwamizawa City’s mother-child health survey, as many as one-third of the mothers before and after delivery volunteered to help collect data on food intake, the intestinal environment, breast milk, and the needs of expectant and nursing mothers. They talked with each other about their problems and difficulties, sought solutions, and shared wisdom and ideas at birth preparation seminars. After birth, the health of the children is monitored regularly to collect data on their food intake and development. The government uses this information to consider together with companies and other organizations what can be done to improve the health of mothers and children, and the results are utilized by the government for policy creation and by companies for business.

A four- or five-month checkup in a mother-child health survey. Starting with an understanding of the environment and lifestyle during pregnancy, the lifestyle and health of newborn babies are continuously monitored until they reach school age.

The government’s involvement has been met with a favorable response, and this initiative has been well received. Visible results have been achieved by encouraging behavioral changes, such as improving and enhancing dietary habits based on the survey results. Although there are difficulties, the enjoyment outweighs them. This initiative with Iwamizawa City was highly evaluated and led to receiving the Japan Open Innovation Prize’s JSPS Chairman’s Award in February 2021 and the Platinum Prize (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Award) in October of the same year. Based on the know-how gained in Iwamizawa City, nationwide expansion is also envisioned.

Measuring devices have been installed at five Tsuruha Drug stores in Iwamizawa City and other parts of Hokkaido, where local residents can get health checks free of charge. The data obtained from quick health checks has shown that age, previous bone fractures, gender, and calcium intake, in that order, affect the state of bone density.

Aiming to realize a society where people can live happily in their own way

The Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center has made a new start together with the Life Design Center for the Mind and The Body, which was adopted in October 2021 as part of the Co-Creation Center Support Program(COI-NEXT) by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Japan Science and Technology Agency. The kick-off event “emmy fes.: event 0” was held in December 2021. “Emmy means smile,” he says. This event is the result of Dr. Yoshino’s desire to create a place where young people can gather with smiles on their faces, meet, talk, empathize, and experience science. The social backgrounds of the speakers at talk sessions were diverse. The speakers shared their various thoughts on topics such as childcare, medical care, industry, research and development, and youth culture, and talked about how they would take action. This project focuses on identifying problems and taking on challenges rather than the science of finding the right answer. Creating opportunities for this is another important activity.

This open-ended initiative aims to help people live joyfully in society. It is a different approach from medical care, which you turn to when your health is failing. Art, music, entertainment including movies, and gastronomy make healthy people even more energetic. He hopes to develop a creative industry in society, which makes people happy through such enjoyment.

The free magazine live is published by Iwamizawa City and Hokkaido University’s Innovative Food & Healthcare MASTER center. Launched with the desire to create the town with the most smiles in Japan, the magazine provides a variety of health-related information primarily aimed at the child-rearing generation.

“Our current activities involve the pregnancy and childbirth phase of life events,” Dr. Yoshino says. “Although this phase relies heavily on medical expertise in most situations, the story of life doesn’t end there. In COI-NEXT, an expansion of our current activities, we’d like to complete a full cycle of life by covering children’s infancy, growth period, and the point where children become adults and give birth to the next generation. Lifelong ‘empowerment of mind and body’ is the slogan of this activity.” He strongly identifies with the line “You change the world when you change your mind!” sung in the musical “Kinky Boots,” and is looking for people who want to participate in activities aimed at delving into issues and changing society.

From Hokkaido University to the community and into the future, a smiling society will spread.

This article was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Litterae Populi. The full issue can be found here.