Why are 67% of men over weight in Britain?

I was recently in a well known pizza restaurant looking at the drinks menu with which I was having some difficulty. You see I’m trying to cut the sugar in my diet, years of being told its bad for me have finally had an impact. The options in front of me where not helping me though: Diet or regular Coke, lemonade, milk etc. I don’t want to order a Diet Coke because, you see, I am not a woman. It seems silly to say it now but I was worried what my friends would think of me for drinking a “diet drink”. I’m not alone; men aren’t good a losing weight.

Well actually that is a complete lie; men are quite good at losing weight. Men tend have more muscle mass (thanks testosterone) which let us burn calories more quickly. This affect applies both when we are exercising and when we are not. We are also more likely to include exercising in weight loss attempts while women are more likely only change their diet.  Women tend to be emotional eaters, craving certain foods when they are stressed or nervous. Women’s bodies produce more hormones telling them to eat after exercise, men’s don’t. As a result of all this, and more, when we decide it’s time to lose weight we do it well. So why then are 67% of British men over weight compared to 57% of women?

Well worrying about your weight is a feminine trait, isn’t it? It is for vain women; us men are relaxed about our bodies and comfortable in our own skin and if we aren’t then the world mustn’t know. This certainly what the message we get from advertises weight watchers, diet chief and so on target women first. More widely a woman who wants to lose weight might be supported and might have friends who want to join in. For a man their friends are more likely to subject them to banter at best bullying at worse.

Dieting is still very much part of a woman’s world. Despite the growing pressure men feel to look good while women tend to diet for appearance reasons men still tend to make life style changes due to health concerns. This requires those health concerns to be obvious to us but unfortunately we are often oblivious.

We have a tendency to under estimate their weight problems. One study in Mexico found that 58% of overweight respondents thought they were a normal weight and 75% of obsess respondents placed themselves in the overweight category.  Of course methods to check how healthy you are not 100% accurate anyway it’s best to stick with something simple like waist size. Unfortunately that might not work out too well either; another study found that men tend to underestimate their waist size by at least 2 inches.  As a result we tend to underestimate the risk to our health. If it is this underestimated health risk that motivates us to get going we are unlikely to get going when we need to.

So it seems we need only to provide British men with two things to get them losing weight: accurate knowledge of their problems (if they have them) and a bit of a scare to get them going. Not an easy thing to do. The best advice that I can come up with is ask your GP “is my weight healthy”. Though, as we have covered before on Year of the Male, men tend to avoid going to the GP so that might not prove too successful. Beyond that you can look at your BMI or waist size. You can check your BMI over on the NHS website with very little fuss. As for waist size you need to make sure that you measure the largest part – not always where you put your jeans. The NHS tells us that men with a waist of 37 inches (94cm) have a higher risk of health problems; over 40 inches (102 cm) and your risks are higher still.

Providing the scare however is even more difficult. Seeing a GP is probably the best way to find out accurately how scared (or not) you should be. Beyond that I can tell you that being obese can lead to: type 2 diabetes, which can lead to death; coronary heart disease, which can lead to death; some cancers, which can lead to death; stoke, which can lead to death. In short obesity can lead to death. It can also lead to depression and low self esteem affecting relationships, make getting around difficult and lead to aches and pains. If obesity doesn’t kill you it can make your life miserable.

In case that last paragraph isn’t exactly filling you with hope I will remind you of the second one: we really are rather good at losing weight once we get started. Once started the benefits are huge you will be better at: sport; running for the bus; playing with your kids; fundraising for your favourite charity and out running zombies in the coming apocalypse.

I have yet to address how we see weight loss and dieting as feminine. Being concerned about your health and fitness shouldn’t be seen as just for women (though I hope we can keep the stress over our looks as low as possible). We as a society need to challenge this stigma but for now this article in the telegraph has pointers on how to beat the stigma.  The article appeared first in the amazing Man V Fat magazine which is well worth checking out if you need to lose a few pounds or not.

Oh, I got that Diet Coke in the end and felt all the better for it.

Photo by Tony Alter under creative commons license originally found here