Health

Too many men 'unconcerned' about weight health risks

  • 8 April 2011
  • From the section Health
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Image caption Men often give up sport as they get older

Too many men are failing to recognise the health risks of being overweight, according to Men's Health Forum chief executive Peter Baker.

He says that by not acting to tackle the problem, the NHS is making "a rod for its own back".

Women face a lot of cultural pressure to be slim. This is largely not because of health concerns and can sometimes have quite tragic consequences.

It does mean though, that many women often have a good understanding of the factors that affect their weight.

The majority of men, on the other hand, appear not to be as bothered about their weight as they maybe should be. Neither are health services.

A significantly greater proportion of men are overweight or obese (66% of men compared with 57% of women).

Body image

Too many men still die too young - 22% of men in England and Wales die before they reach 64 compared to 13% of women.

Overweight and obesity are a major factor in this excess burden of male death.

Two thirds of men are overweight or obese - the obesity rate alone could rise to 60% by 2050.

Overweight men tend to be "apple-shaped", overweight women "pear-shaped". For complex physiological and biological reasons, this extra fat around the middle causes much greater harm.

Yet many men seem unconcerned about their weight.

Their attitude is that weight is a "women's issue".

This is a cultural thing. Women face a lot more body image pressure than men, although that is starting to affect some young men too.

But generally it appears men are less aware of the connection between excess weight and poorer health.

Being overweight increases the risks of heart disease and stroke - the biggest killers of men.

It is also an important risk factor for several cancers.

Men are 70% more likely than women to die from cancers common to both sexes and 60% more likely to get such a cancer.

Services 'not man-friendly'

This is not just about a choice between eating a burger and salad. It goes much further than diet.

More physical activity could make a big impact. Active men have a 20-30% reduced risk of early death and up to 50% reduced risk of developing major diseases.

Men are more likely than women to get some exercise but their exercise levels drop off very quickly as they get into their 30s.

We estimate a million men aged over 35 in England and Wales need to get more exercise if their age group is to be as active as younger men.

Some start feeling they can't keep up like they could when they were younger or become more worried about injuries. But instead of adapting how they play football or rugby, they stop all altogether.

There are other ways to get some exercise and reap the benefits - a Dutch study found commuters who cycle take less time off sick.

We need to let men know about alternatives to the style of football or rugby they played when they were 20.

The result of society's and men's own attitude to men's weight is that services do not really cater well for men. This includes the NHS weight loss services which are often not particularly "man friendly".

We need male-friendly approaches capable of engaging with men and we need them soon - especially in primary care and health promotion.

We need to improve men's physical activity levels, whether through sports or building exercise into routine.

By deterring men from seeking help with their weight the NHS is only making a rod for its own back.

These men will be more likely to need expensive treatment for serious conditions later on.

In the meantime they are more likely to take time off work as they become ill and their illnesses will cause distress throughout their family.