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Obesity in Men vs. Women

Portrait of a happy fit couple standing

Until recently, about 80 percent of patients undergoing bariatric surgery, a medical procedure that reduces the amount of food a person can consume, have been women. But that is changing.

“Men are recognizing it’s not okay to be overweight and that it does affect their health,” says bariatric surgeon Leena Khaitan, MD, MPH.

“Men are more motivated by associated health problems, not by how they look,” she says.

Until now, popular culture may be partly to blame for differences in the way men and women view their bodies, Dr. Khaitan says.

“How many TV shows are there where the mommy looks attractive and slender and the dad is overweight,” Dr. Khaitan says. “That is considered the societal norm, right? In general, our society has been more accepting of a man being overweight than a woman.”

Obesity’s Effect on Health

According to 2013-2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70.7 percent of Americans age 20 and older are overweight, of which 37.9 percent of them are obese. A person with a body mass index of 30 or higher is considered obese. A person with a body mass index of at least 25 and less than 30 is overweight.

Being overweight or obese may exacerbate health conditions in men and women, including:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Chronic pain in the back and knees
  • Osteoarthritis

In addition, women may experience fertility issues.

“Some of our patients, both men and women, might need another procedure, but they can’t have it because they’re too big,” Dr. Khaitan says. “For example, they may need surgery to help with fertility, or a knee replacement.”

Reasons for Weight Gain

People find themselves at an unhealthy weight for a variety of reasons: poor diet, inactivity, another medical condition or pregnancy, for example.

With men, Dr. Khaitan says, those were formerly athletic are often surprised to find how much weight they’ve gained since the days in which they exercised regularly.

“Many, who were athletes in high school or college, stopped being athletes and then kept on eating the same way,” she says. “But they weren’t burning calories the same way and eventually became obese.”

Weight and Work

Weight may also become an issue at the workplace.

“There’s definitely a prejudice against people who are overweight, particularly if they’re obese, because the perception is they’re not going to perform as well as somebody who is lean and doing the same job,” Dr. Khaitan says.

It can also affects time management and the bottom line, Dr. Khaitan says.

“The secondary concern for employers is there are increased disability claims for people who are obese and increased missed time for employees for doctor’s appointments or health issues," she says “Once people get weight-loss surgery, those appointments, health issues and time off for health go down.”

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