Gastrointestinal symptoms and food/nutrition concerns after the great East Japan earthquake in March 2011: survey of evacuees in a temporary shelter

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2014 Jun;29(3):303-6. doi: 10.1017/S1049023X14000533. Epub 2014 Jun 6.


On March 11, 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake occurred in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of northern Japan. A resulting tsunami struck the Japan Pacific coast, causing >20,000 deaths, injuries and missing persons. Survivors' post-tsunami health and nutritional status were surveyed one month after the disaster in a school shelter in Ishinomaki City. Hyogo College of Medicine's disaster relief team observations and survivors' questionnaires were used to assess the disaster's effects on survivors' lifestyles and gastrointestinal symptoms while residing in temporary shelters. Of 236 disaster evacuees 9-88 years of age (mean age 52 years), 23% lost weight and 28% reported decreased food intake one month after the earthquake. Up to 25% of the participants presented with gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation (10%), appetite loss (6.4%), vomiting (6.4%), and nausea (2.1%). Although the victims preferred more vegetables (44%) or fruit (33%), most food aid received, such as rice balls or bread, was carbohydrate-based, possibly because of easy provision and abundance in emergency food pantries. The authors asked the volunteers and the Japan Self-Defense Forces to provide a more balanced diet, including vegetables and fruit. Consumption of imbalanced diets may have caused more gastrointestinal symptoms for the survivors. Because of the victims' hesitation to request more balanced diets, and because of poorly controlled existing chronic disease and mental stress, professional public health providers should assure emergency food nutrition after disasters.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Diet*
  • Disaster Planning
  • Earthquakes*
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / psychology
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors*