Obesity is Unfair to Women

Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

in the recent Scientific Statement of the American Heart Association on Population-Based Prevention, a section on gender disparities caught my attention.

The basic tenor here was that although women appear far more concerned and conscious about healthy eating and weight issues, obesity prevention may actually be more difficult for women than men.

Here is why:

1. Women have lower caloric requirements than men on average and must, therefore, consume less food than men if they are to remain in energy balance. This may be particularly disadvantageous for women when eating out, given that restaurant and take-home portion sizes are the same whether the customer is male or female. (both genders tend to lick their platters clean!)

2. Because of their lower caloric requirements, unwitting consumption of a few hundred extra calories is more detrimental to energy balance for women than men.

3. Offsetting excess caloric intake by extra expenditure through physical activity is more difficult for women, because of their smaller body size and substantially lesser amount of lean tissue.

4. Depression, which has been associated with overeating and weight gain, both with respect to using food for comfort and because many antidepressants cause weight gain, is substantially more common in women than in men. Also, more women than men reported overeating under stress.

5. Leisure time or recreational activity levels are lower for females than males, declining markedly in adolescence. Moreover, opportunities for physical activity in women are constrained by greater caregiving responsibilities and safety concerns that affect times and places available for physical activity.

6. Socially acceptable forms of physical activity may be fewer for women than men, particularly in some ethnic groups. Social concerns may include displeasure of spouses or other household members, because exercise may be perceived as taking a woman away from family responsibilities.

7. Occupational activity levels are also often lower for females.

8. Women are more likely to diet or weight cycle, both risk factors for long-term weight gain.

9. Women are at risk of retaining the weight gained during pregnancy.

Reasons enough for women to have a much harder time preventing weight gain than men.

Perhaps something to keep in mind when counseling your female patients.

Edmonton, Alberta