By Darragh O’Keeffe
Have you ever noticed that almost all advertising around weight loss focuses on women?
This is odd, as it is Australian men who are increasingly losing the battle of the bulge.
Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show 70 per cent of Australian men are overweight or obese, compared to 56 per cent of women.
These extra kilos put men at risk of a whole host of health concerns including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea — to name a few.
There are many reasons why men are carrying more kilos, but Professor John Dixon said in part it was because their support networks and willingness to seek help was often wanting.
“The studies show about 70 to 80 per cent of those attending [weight loss programs] are women, so there is a tendency for men not to seek treatment as often,” said Professor Dixon, head of clinical research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
Professor Dixon said there was a wider perception weight management programs were designed for women, which he attributes in large part to how they are marketed, and the fact that very few programs specifically target men.
His research into why men and women seek help with their weight shows some marked gender differences.
“Women are far more likely to say they’re attending because of issues around body image, embarrassment over their appearance, or social stigmatisation,” Professor Dixon said.
“Men are less likely to say those things and are more likely to indicate they’re seeking help because they have been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes or are worried about their physical fitness.”
Weighty health issues.
Men who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing any number of health conditions.
Overweight men are far more likely to develop sleep apnoea, for instance, while the levels of sexual dysfunction — both impotence and fertility issues — are higher for obese men than women, according to Professor Dixon.
“The greatest risks are in young adults, and those of Indigenous and Asian ethnicities,” Professor Dixon said.
“For the younger adult males, there’s the risk of getting bigger with time and the increased risk of weight-related complications. For high risk ethnic groups, there is a much higher risk of serious metabolic and cardiac complications at a lower BMI.”
Men’s mental health is also affected by carrying excess kilos, with studies showing increased rates of depression amongst overweight men.
Complex factors at play.
So what are the barriers preventing Australian men from maintaining a healthy weight?
Last year researchers from the University of Newcastle asked a group of young men about what hindered and motivated them to eat healthy and exercise.
The 60 men aged 12 to 25 identified the barriers to healthy eating as:
- Internal factors such as the perceived effort
- Logistical issues including cost
- Social factors such as peer influence.
When it came to getting enough physical activity, it was busy lifestyles, logistics, thoughts and feelings of inferiority, and social factors that got in the way.