There are almost as many obese men in the UK as obese women. According to NHS statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, one quarter of the adult population is not just overweight but has reached the next level of obesity — that’s 24% of men and 26% of women.
But when it comes to having a healthy Body Mass Index — often used as a guide to weight — women are doing better than men. Last available figures from 2011 show that 39% of women had a healthy BMI compared to 34% of men.
Quite clearly men have a weight problem.
And yet the number of women in slimming clubs far outweighs men and men are much less likely to ask for referrals to specialists.
According to Dr Rajeswaran Chinnadorai, chairman of the National Diabesity Forum and the consultant physician leading the Kirklees weight management service, around 90% of the morbidly obese people who end up in his specialist obesity clinic are women.
There is, he says, a reluctance by men to admit they have a problem and seek help. He explained: “In society it’s seen as OK for a man to be big. People will say ‘he’s just a big guy’ and men say they are not as concerned about how they look. But when they come to the clinic I find that they do have problems with their body image – it’s just that they are hiding it and not expressing it.
“Men can be socially and emotionally excluded, but they have the same issues as women.”
Among the morbidly obese, Dr Chinnadorai has found that psychological issues play a significant role in weight problems. Issues such as sexual or emotional abuse, depression, inadequacy and dependence. And men find it much harder to face up to a dealing with their inner feelings. He also points the finger of blame towards calorie-dense, readily-available and cheap processed foods which have an addictive quality.
Unfortunately, many men wait until they have a physical health problem before asking for advice or accepting help.
May Wiseman, who runs a Slimming World group in Brighouse Methodist Church, agrees that men are often in denial about their weight problem and think of ‘diet food’ as unmanly. She has just a handful of men in her group of 70-plus members. And yet statistics from the organisation show that when men do join up they lose more weight than women and take a focused, conscientious approach to adopting a new, healthier diet.
“As a general rule of thumb men seem to think that a slimming organisation is a woman’s world and it’s hard for them to walk through that door,” she said.
“They are quite sceptical and don’t know what to expect. They think we are going to ask them to eat salad, that they are going to be told to eat ‘diet food’. They are not aware that they can still eat proper food – even have a pint of beer – and that they will be eating tasty and filling food. It’s about eating healthily and being satisfied. They have to be educated.”
Men who do sign up to a slimming club often go along to accompany a wife or partner and to some extent it’s true that even those who stay at home may benefit indirectly. As May points out: “There are quite a few men eating Slimming World recipes without realising it and who lose weight because their wife is following one of our plans. Our aim is to improve the diets of the whole family, children as well.”
Leighton Stead from Kirkheaton was one of just four men in May’s Brighouse group when he began a weight loss journey that has taken him from nearly 20 stones to under 13 stones in 19 months. He is now a slimline 12 stones 10lbs and poised to take part in his first-ever competitive race in the Great North Run on Sunday, September 7.
The father-of-two, who works for West Yorkshire Police, began attending regularly with his wife Andrea back in January 2013.
He explained: “Andrea had been asking me to join her for a while and I’d gone along every so often, but my heart wasn’t in it. And then at Christmas in 2012 I’d bought some new clothes for Christmas Day and felt so bloated and uncomfortable in them that I had to get changed. I decided then that I wanted to lose weight.
“I was a bit nervous about coming along to class, but going with Andrea helped a lot. I can understand that a male on his own would be anxious about it.”
Leighton has, in fact, been a phenomenally successful slimmer, winning the Brighouse Slimming World Man of the Year title. His waist has shrunk from an unhealthy 42/44 to just 32 inches.
He and Andrea, who has lost 3½ stones (22kg), changed their diets — from take-aways, ready meals and calorific snacks – to freshly-prepared home-cooked food.
Leighton, who now does all the family cooking, has also upped his activity levels.
He said: “I had always been a big person, but it was never a problem to me. I always considered myself healthy – I played the odd football game and cycled to work but now I know how really unfit I was.”
In fact, the Stead family was living a fairly typical 21st century lifestyle with shift work and a reliance on easily-available, calorie-dense foods.
Back in January Leighton began running three times a week, attending the Park Run in Greenhead Park, and signed up for The Great North Run. He also cycles to work three times a week — a return journey of 11 miles.
The running boosted his weight loss as Leighton discovered when he had to take time out for injury. He explained: “I injured my knee and couldn’t run for four weeks and within that time my weight wasn’t shifting as quickly as it had been when I was running.”
Although he is greatly outnumbered by women in the slimming group Leighton says he understands the importance of attending meetings.
“If you have had a bad week or are really struggling you can listen to other people and realise you are not the only one. You get encouragement.”
Leighton would appreciate support for his fundraising Great North Run for Great Ormond Street Hospital. His Just Giving page can be found at www.justgiving.com/Leighton-Stead