The government has set up a research group to investigate issues including body image attitudes and diet and lifestyle habits, as part of attempts to lower the high proportion of underweight young adult women in Japan, the health ministry said Monday.

Being underweight puts individuals' health at greater risk, and can present dangers to newborn children, so the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare intends to use the group's findings to improve understanding of the importance of maintaining a normal weight by spreading awareness on the risks of excessive and unbalanced diets.

Within the current fiscal year through March, the research group will review how to survey young women to get a picture of their understanding of eating habits and nutrition, and to capture trends.

The 2019 National Health and Nutrition Survey showed 20.7 percent of women in their 20s had an underweight body mass index of below 18.5, while 70.4 percent had a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 deemed a normal weight, and 8.9 percent had an overweight BMI of 25.0 or above.

The proportion of underweight people is higher than in other age groups, and Japan's level is above those of other developed nations.

The government's 10-year Health Japan 21 plan launched in 2013 was aimed at bringing the section of women in their 20s with an underweight BMI to below 20 percent. But it has been unsuccessful.

Limiting food intake can lead to malnutrition and symptoms of anemia, and there have also been cases of people wanting to be thin to the point of developing anorexia, health experts say.

Underweight mothers have a higher risk of low weight births in which the infant is 2,500 grams or less. Children born underweight are said to be more likely to have body compositions that readily store nutrients, and are more susceptible to lifestyle-related diseases in adulthood, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Fumi Hayashi, an associate professor at Kagawa Nutrition University, said media and other sources have cultivated "mistaken societal standards that being thin is ideal."

"Although some people might be concerned that an appropriate weight excludes them from enjoying the latest fashions, there are also advantages such as not being as easily fatigued. It is important that society as a whole changes its attitudes," she said.