A new How to guide launched by the Men’s Health Forum charity, and supported by Public Health England, is the first to show how to adapt and run weight-loss programmes that are tailored specifically for men. A shocking 67% of men are overweight or obese, which is significantly more than women at 58%, yet men are much less likely to join weight-loss programmes. Only 10 to 30% of those in weight-loss programmes are men, and some weight-loss programmes attract almost no men.
The evidence-based guide, ‘How to make weight-loss services work for men’, aimed at local authorities, commissioners and weight management providers, follows important new research, led by the University of Aberdeen with the University of Stirling and Bournemouth University, which looks into male attitudes and behaviour in relation to health. It showed that the majority of weight management programmes are regarded by men as ‘feminised spaces’, and they often feel uncomfortable joining.
In addition, being big may be regarded as a good thing by some men, as socio-cultural influences can encourage a larger more masculine body. Men may also not know or care if they have a weight problem, and tend to be more cynical about ‘health messages’.
The guide offers advice for local authorities, commissioners and weight management providers who are trying to attract men to weight-loss programmes. The guide highlights that:
- programmes that include exercise and behaviour change components as well as dieting are more successful in helping men to lose weight
- men respond well to programmes that have a higher degree of personalisation, such as setting individual goals, as it increases their sense of control
- weight-loss programmes based in the workplace or associated with professional sports clubs have been particularly successful
- using humour and encouraging camaraderie makes programmes more attractive to men as does knowing that there will be other men there
- NHS programmes have a higher referral rate compared to private programmes illustrating the crucial role of NHS staff in encouraging men to join
- offering a ‘male only’ group may make it more likely for men to join
- use of a pedometer and ‘gadgets’ also make programmes more appealing
Martin Tod, the Men’s Health Forum’s chief executive, said:
“Men are not getting the services they need on weight-loss either from the NHS or commercial providers. Even though men are more likely than women to be overweight and obese – and more are likely to die from weight-related disease – men are still only a small minority of those in NHS-funded weight-loss programmes.
“It is crucial that local government and the NHS put the guidance into practice and develop programmes that appeal to and work for men. Otherwise men will continue to dis-proportionately suffer from avoidable disease and unnecessarily early death”.
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said:
“Weight-loss programmes have conventionally disproportionately targeted women and now is the time to address the gender imbalance. This guidance presents a vital opportunity for local authorities, commissioners and weight management providers to support men to lose weight and ultimately improve their health.
“Being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, all of which are preventable. Cutting calorie intake by having smaller portions and eating healthier meals, snacks and drinks alongside being more active can help us lose weight and lead healthier longer lives”.
Stephen, 44, from Wigan, went to ABL Health’s ‘Trim Down, Shape Up’ programme to lose weight and talks about his experience:
“A side on photo my daughter took of me on holiday was the final straw. I had to change! There was a burning desire to live longer and come off blood pressure tablets. I think I have used the wrong approaches in the past which led me to failure and resulted in me doing more of the bad stuff like eating and drinking too much. I found it very difficult to lose weight as a result. Friends and work colleagues at work had tried a local programme so I thought I would give it a go.
“I’ve finally found the right approach. I love the camaraderie of being in an “all blokes” session and the realisation that others are there looking like me with aims like mine. The exercise is the most enjoyable part and I continue to enjoy the sessions. It’s like a lads’ night out with exercise instead of beer. It’s a laugh with serious outcomes and it’s free! I really hope the service continues.
“Since I’ve been doing the sessions I have more energy. I can now fit into ‘normal’ clothes. I save £150 a month on petrol because I cycle into work each day. It used to take me 1.5 hours to cycle to work whereas now it can take as little as 22 minutes and I’m not out of breath at the end.
Nice comments from friends really keep me motivated. My blood pressure is right down – no more nose bleeds. I sleep better and have lots more self-confidence. I would advise others to see your doctor first for a check-up, start with small changes and sign up for a programme. You’ll soon be flying and enjoying life once again!”
When launching schemes to help men lose weight, the Men’s Health Forum and PHE offer ‘10 top tips’:
- Choose an opportune moment: overweight men are most motivated to lose weight following a health scare or the diagnosis of a weight-related health problem. Encouragement from a health professional at this point can make all the difference. This is also the time when family and friends are most likely to support and encourage a man to lose weight.
- Focus on the concern that is most important to men: men prefer that programmes are overtly dedicated to improving health or fitness, rather than simply about losing weight.
- Find the best setting: although, in general terms, men prefer NHS-provided weight-loss programmes to commercial programmes, their preference is for sessions to take place away from healthcare settings. Men prefer community settings such as their workplace or at the football club they support.
- Make it clear that the programme has been designed with men in mind: both sexes appreciate knowing that health improvement interventions are “gender-sensitive”. It is possible to accommodate both male and female attitudes and aspirations within mixed sex programmes but men like to know that they are welcome and their needs have been accounted for.
- Adopt the most “male-friendly” approach: losing weight by dietary changes alone is stereotyped by many men as a female activity. Men are more likely to take part in weight-loss programmes that pay at least as much attention to physical activity as to dieting.
- Avoid what men don’t want: men don’t like “strict diets” and some men are anxious about looking too thin. It is important that programmes clearly are about improving “fitness” rather than becoming “slim”.
- Remind men that they have a lot to gain: there are numerous health benefits associated with losing weight. It may be worth spelling out those health benefits in promotional literature, highlighting potential gains (feeling fitter, the possibility of coming off medication, reduced incidence of erectile dysfunction) rather than dwelling on the risks of not taking part.
- Create the right atmosphere: humour, banter and camaraderie are important in keeping men engaged and in developing mutual support.
- Share responsibility with male participants: men tend to believe that being overweight is a personal issue and that it requires individual action to tackle it. Men appreciate an individual plan and may enjoy taking personal responsibility for monitoring, and accounting for changes in their food intake and activity level.
- Be encouraged that weight-loss programmes work for men: men are significantly less likely than women to join weight-loss programmes, but once recruited they are less likely than women to drop out and may do better at sticking to certain elements of the programme.
Full press release on www.gov.uk