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Obesity and Gender

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

Obesity knows no gender...

In the U.S., an estimated 60 percent of all adults are overweight, and 20 percent are obese or 100 pounds over their ideal body weight. More women are obese, but more men are overweight. Overweight and obese people are more at risk for many chronic and devastating diseases.

The No. 1 killer of Americans is heart disease, an affliction closely related to obesity. There is also a strong relationship between being overweight and suffering from hypertension, arthritis, and most importantly, diabetes type 2. Obesity figures prominently in the development of gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and asthma, too.

According to The American Cancer Society, evidence suggests that obesity increases the risk for developing breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. In addition, the risk for gallbladder, kidney and endometrial cancer is increased. Obese men are 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of cancer than normal weight men are. Obesity also makes cancer tumors more difficult to detect and diagnose.

Overweight and obese people may develop an aversion to exercise. It’s more difficult to move so over time, the excess weight takes a toll on knees and hips. Joint and muscle problems develop and are aggravated by obesity. Arthritis is often a result. A vicious cycle of inactivity, weight gain, obesity, decreased activity, and more weight gain is set in perpetual motion. Studies show that almost 25 percent of the population never exercises! At least half of us don’t get the minimum recommended and only 20 percent actually get enough activity to matter.

Your Weight is Just a Number on the Scale

I always say that your weight is just a number on the scale. What you weigh is not necessarily the deciding issue when evaluating your health and risks for disease. You may be muscular! Muscle is a denser tissue and weighs more by volume than fat. A muscular body is a heavier body, without the risk factors associated with obesity. However, if you are above the upper range of weight for height (BMI) and you do have health problems associated with obesity, you need to revaluate your physique and perhaps create some goals.

Know Your Numbers

Pay attention to your numbers. Men should get a physical and establish their blood lipid levels as a baseline. It’s important to determine your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, and make sure your blood pressure is within a normal range. High blood lipids may be a sign of increased risk for a heart attack. High blood pressure increases risk for stroke.

Diet is not the only factor in high cholesterol. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress and activity influence your weight and your cholesterol. Uncontrollable factors such as genetics, gender and age factor in too. Ideally, you want total cholesterol below 200 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dl), LDL below 100, and HDL or "healthy" cholesterol over 40. If your total cholesterol is above 240, expect that your risk for heart disease has doubled.

The Bad News: Anatomy is Destiny!

For men, it’s important to pay attention to where the fat accumulates. Men tend to garner weight around their abdomen, while women store it in their hips and thighs. Research has shown that apple-shaped men and women have an increased risk of developing obesity-related health problems.

More women than men perceive themselves as overweight, regardless of their actual weight. More women obsess about their weight and more women are on diets than are men, which may or may not be a good thing! At any time, 45 percent of women and 25 percent of men are trying to lose weight. A recent study published in the February edition of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that almost 66 percent of men and 48 percent of woman said they were overweight.

However, 73 percent of the men and 85 percent of the women were currently trying to lose weight or avoid gaining more weight. What’s important is that only a fraction of these overweight men and women are doing anything constructive to reach these goals. Only 1/3 of these men and 1/5 of the women are exercising or changing what they eat!

It’s not easy to be thin in America! Our workload has increased so that now we spend more time working than any other society. We’ve moved from an agrarian society to an urban one, and with the hours spent working sedentary comes an increase in body weight. On average, Americans weigh 8 pounds more than they did 10 years ago, obesity has increased over 50 percent since 1980, we eat at least 6 percent more calories than we did 20 years ago, and we don’t burn them off!

Americans dine out on average at least five times a week. Some eat away from home every day... and more than once!

Portion size counts. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health shows that fast food portions are two to five times larger than their original sizes. Fast food is cheap and restaurants make you offers that you cannot refuse. For a few cents more, you can "super size" everything. This trend started 30 years ago with frozen entrées. Manufacturers complimented men by telling them that they needed "manly" portions... a real man needs real calories. The reality is that accompanying the increase in portion size is the increase in obesity.

Men tend to shop and cook less often than women do. Men tend to eat take-out food more often and have less control over what they’re actually eating!

For Some Good News!

That’s the BAD news! The good news is that men may have it easier than women may when it comes to losing weight. Physiologically, muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Men, who are more muscular than women, are generally able to lose weight more easily and consistently. Men are very goal-oriented and may treat a weight loss program as a project with a timeline and end objective.

Women often complain that if they begin a weight loss program at the same time as their significant other, the other always loses weight more quickly and consistently. It may be because the man's physique is more muscular which makes his body burns calories quicker. Or maybe it is because men are determined to achieve the goal and do not deviate from their program as much.

Strategies for Success

The best strategy is committing to a healthy lifestyle, without focusing on eliminating any one food. Small changes will bring large rewards! Perhaps just eating out less often or choosing different foods can make the difference.

Make some changes! Prioritize your health. Diet and lifestyle can directly affect your risk for heart disease and prostate cancer. You can control your risk when you control what you eat and how much you exercise. Prostate cancer is the second leading type of cancer in men. In 2001, new prostate cancer cases totaled 198,100 (about one new case every three minutes). Diet can improve that risk factor. A low-fat, high-fiber diet and regular exercise can slow prostate cancer cell growth by up to 30 percent, according to a new study by researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center and UCLA's Department of Physiological Science.

Heart disease kills more Americans than any other condition, and diet is a contributing factor. Eat a healthy diet, keep your weight within a healthy range for your height and body type, kick the cigarettes and cigars, and drink moderately. These key factors will help you avoid heart disease and certain cancers. Youll feel great!

Did You Know?

There is a relationship between stomach cancer and eating many preserved foods. The rate of stomach cancer in American has dropped considerably from the 1930s because were eating less smoked, pickled, salted and cured foods, especially meats. You may want to avoid hot dogs, bacon, ham and pickled vegetables. Instead, enjoy fresh foods and stay healthy!

eDiets Director of Nutrition Services Susan L. Burke, M.S., R.D., L.D., CDE is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, and a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in both general and diabetes-related weight management. .

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