Changing diet, exercise, men-only groups and humour may be recipe for tackling male obesity

Health Science

Fewer men join weight loss programmes but are more likely than women to stick with them, according to analysis of international obesity studies led by University of Aberdeen researchers. Dr Paula Carroll, lecturer and researcher

Fewer men join weight loss programmes but are more likely than women to stick with them, according to analysis of international obesity studies led by University of Aberdeen researchers.

Dr Paula Carroll, lecturer and researcher at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and Director of the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland, was an advisor to the team which included researchers from the Universities of Aberdeen, Bournemouth and Stirling in the UK.

Dr Carroll, who specialises in the area of men’s health promotion policy and practice, said “Since 1990, the prevalence of obesity among men in Ireland has increased from 7.8% to 25.8% (12.9% to 21.3% in women) and the latest statistics show that only 30% of men in Ireland are of ‘normal’ weight.  This represents a significant public health risk with considerable associated social and economic costs that requires immediate attention.  Notably, many overweight, and indeed obese men, are unaware that their weight is not ‘normal’ and in fact, poses a health risk to them.   This anomaly stems from both a lack of health knowledge and the male drive for muscularity that associates ‘bigness’ with masculinity, physical attractiveness and good health.

“This research is significant in that, following a systematic review of existing evidence, it has outlined clear mechanisms by which health promotion interventions for weight loss should be targeted at men”.

According to the research, men also prefer the use of simple ‘business-like’ language, welcome humour used sensitively, and benefit from the moral support of other men in strategies to tackle obesity.

These are some of the findings of scientists prompting them to suggest if weight loss programmes were specifically designed for men these might be more effective at helping them lose weight.

Researchers analysed evidence from around the world, gathered from weight loss trials and studies that have also taken men’s views. The team particularly investigated what would make services more appealing for men.

From their systematic review of the evidence on obesity management published by the NHS National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment Programme, researchers also found:

  • Cutting calories together with exercise and following advice on changing behaviour are the best way for obese men to shed pounds. This can also help reduce the risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes.

  • Obese men who eat less lose more weight than those who take more exercise but don’t eat less.

  • In the long term, one calorie-reducing diet has not yet been found to be better than another for weight loss for men.

  • Middle-aged men are motivated to lose weight once they perceive they have a health problem they want to tackle.

  • A desire to improve personal appearance without looking too thin is also a motivator for weight loss in men. 

  • Men are likely to prefer weight-loss programmes delivered by the national health services rather than those run commercially.

  • Group-based weight management programmes run only for men provide moral support.

  • Obesity interventions in sports clubs, such as football clubs, have been very effective, with low dropout rates and very positive responses from men.

Chief investigator Prof Alisson Avenell said “We looked at the outcomes of many previous studies which included men, as well as interviews with men, in order to find out more about how to design services and inform health policy. While more research is needed into the effectiveness of new approaches to engage men with weight-loss, our findings suggest that men should be offered the opportunity to attend weight loss programmes that are different to programmes which are mainly attended by women.”

Dr Flora Douglas, from the University’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, said: “Men prefer more factual information on how to lose weight and more emphasis on physical activity in weight loss programmes. Interventions delivered in social settings were preferred to those delivered in health-care settings.   Group-based programmes showed benefits by facilitating support for men with similar health problems, and some individual tailoring of advice helped men.  Programmes which were situated in a sporting venue, where participants had a strong sense of affiliation, showed low drop-out rates and high satisfaction.”

The full report can be found at:

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