As we head into summer and in recognition of Men’s Health Month, we shift focus to health issues that affect men, specifically. Although women are more likely than men to attempt to lose weight, overweight and obesity impacts more men than women across all age groups. Since weight loss occurs differently for men and women, it is important to know how each gender experiences the weight loss process to better address concerns in areas where they may struggle.
Because men typically have more lean muscle, which burns more calories than fat, they lose weight faster and in a greater amount than women. Although the rate of weight loss tends to even out after six to 12 months, during that time the difference in weight loss and body fat could be significant. Further, since men are more likely to carry weight around their midsection, rather than in their hips and thighs as women do, the appearance of weight loss is more apparent.
Another distinguishing factor between genders in terms of weight loss is testosterone, which helps build muscle. As noted in a previous blog, weight loss becomes more difficult for women after menopause because of the reduction of estrogen. Conversely, men continue to produce testosterone throughout their lives, though levels slowly drop as they get older. Low Testosterone (Low-T) levels can lead to a loss of muscle mass, increased body fat, low libido and other symptoms. There is a strong link between men with obesity and Low-T levels, with some data suggesting that obesity is the most powerful indicator of Low-T. Fortunately, weight loss has an inverse and proportional relationship to testosterone levels, offering great motivation for men with overweight or obesity to begin a lifestyle change.
Men’s attitudes towards their weight and weight loss also differ from women. Men are less likely to consider themselves to be overweight and more likely to try to lose weight on their own versus participating in a program. It is not surprising, then, that men represent just over a quarter of participants in behavioral weight loss programs, in part because they perceive the programs to be designed for women.
Because of their efficacy, it makes sense to encourage men to consider a program that uses a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD). The use of low-energy diets or VLCDs has been found to demonstrate equal effectiveness for men and women. As is typical, men experience greater weight loss and higher reduction and lean body mass than women, and they also experience a more significant change in resting metabolic rate, though the difference is balanced after adjusting for weight. The use of apps and online support also offers the benefits of a structured program with the opportunity to maintain some control of how and when to participate.
While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight loss, clinical trials and secondary reviews suggest that VLCDs are comparable or more effective than other weight loss methods, not only in the amount of weight loss but also in terms of physical and mental health improvements. Benefits have been shown both for short-term (≤ 12 months) and longer term (≥ 12 months) outcomes when used as part of a medically supervised program. To ensure the most effective options are available to those who need them, the medical community should consider all weight loss options for treating patients with obesity and their comorbid diseases, and include VLCDs among their recommendations as part of a lifestyle change.
Knowing the concerns and challenges faced by men with obesity can help direct them to resources that will best address these concerns. Likewise, helping men identify programs that will provide the results they seek, regardless of how the program is marketed, will help overcome possible stereotypes while offering physical and mental health benefits.
*Robard Corporation, Weight-Related Issues Affecting Men byAndrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D., www.robard.com, Published 6/1/2021