We all know that with being overweight and in particular, being obese, come a myriad of health issues1.
Being obese increases the risk of a heart attack, stroke, hypertension, gallstones, cancer, osteoarthritis, obstructive sleep apnea, fatty liver, and depression to name but a few1.
But while obesity and the negative health consequences affects both men and women, being obese has been shown to take a special toll on men, affecting amongst other things, their hormones, sexuality and prostate health1.
In fact, some research suggests that obesity is nearly three times more deadly for men than it is for women2.
In a study of nearly 4 million men and women globally, the results of which were released in 2016, the risk of dying before the age of 70 was 19% for men and 11% for women of normal weight. These risks jumped to 30% and 15%, respectively, for obese men and women2.
Although this study was not able to identify why the risk is greater for men, in previous studies researchers believed that part of the reason for this could be because obese men have greater insulin resistance, higher liver fat levels and are at a greater risk of developing diabetes compared to obese women2.
Global prevalence of obesity, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 303, has nearly tripled between 1975 and 20163. Currently obesity is estimated to affect 11% of men and 15% of women globally3, which translates to 600 million obese adults around the world2.
Dr Gary Hudson, a Johannesburg-based physician with a special interest in obesity and metabolic disorders, who has just completed research into male obesity, estimates that up to 70% of men in South Africa are overweight, and alarmingly 20% are obese4. Obesity in men seems to also affect the white population the most, and he sites weight training and bulking from a young age for contact sports as one of the reasons for this, along with high levels of steroid use and abuse as playing a role in the development of obesity in later years4.
His research has found that while men tend to be active until the age of 20, exercise seems to start tapering off after that. By 40 years of age, only 30% remain active and very few do cardiovascular training, with most rather concentrating on weight training4.
He adds that men’s portions are simply too big. Men also tend to have higher fat and protein meals than females, and consume more alcohol and soft drinks than women4.
Interestingly, males who are obese have low hormones whilst females have high hormones4.
In men, obesity lowers testosterone levels. Additionally, in terms of male sexuality, men who are obese have an increased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED). Obesity may also impair fertility1. Global research has also linked extra body fat with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer1.
Furthermore, Dr Hudson says that men who are obese have much more disturbed sleep like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, and have a much higher risk for pure abdominal obesity. He says that in men, fat is very visceral, with very little being subcutaneous fat4.
Dr Hudson warns that using BMI measurements on men can be tricky and out of sync due to the general body density of men, and suggests rather using measurements for abdomens and necks4. He says men with abdomens in excess of 94 cm and necks thicker than 45 cm are in danger and have a worse health prognosis4.
There is good news. Studies have found that weight loss improve symptoms of ED1. Other studies have shown that by losing just 10% of your body weight, a man can decrease his risk of dying before the age of 70 by 20%2.
In fact, a host of scientific studies show that many obesity-related conditions improve with as little as a 5-10% weight-loss, including improvements on cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, and inflammation5.
Dr Hudson says that while appetite suppressant medication plays a smaller role in men trying to lose weight than in women, there are certain medications and options for men that can aid their attempts to lose weight. He adds that, in his experience, men seem to do better on keto or intermittent fasting diets but should be careful to avoid high protein diets as these can play havoc with blood pressure and uric acid levels4.
The bottom line is that too much energy dense food and too little exercise are the fundamental causes of being overweight or obese3. The World Health Organization recommends that to lose weight, people should limit energy intake from total fats and sugars; increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts; and engage in regular physical activity (150 minutes spread through the week for adults)3.
Speak to your doctor about weight loss management options that might be best for you.
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- Harvard Medical School. Obesity: Unhealthy and Unmanly (2011) at https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/obesity-unhealthy-and-unmanly (Website accessed on 20 May 2019)
- Web MD. Obesity More Deadly for Men Than Women (2016) at https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/news/20160713/obesity-more-deadly-for-men-than-women-study#1 (Website accessed on 20 May 2019)
- World Health Organization. Obesity and Overweight (2018) at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight (Website accessed on 20 May 2019)
- Q&A with Dr Gary Hudson – 2 May 2019 (unpaid)
- Pietrzykowska, NB. MD, FACP. Benefits of 5-10 Percent Weight-loss. Obesity Action Coalition (2017) at https://www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/benefits-of-5-10-percent-weight-loss (Website accessed on 28 May 2019).