Dr. Sally Norton tackles the subject of obesity and its related health risks for men this Movember, giving her top tips to help the man in your life to lose weight and keep as fit and healthy as can be.
I often hear from women who are tackling their own weight on the programme but can’t persuade their husband to follow suit! I also spend a lot of time in my hospital clinic listening to the same plea from male patients: “help me lose weight so I can stay healthy for my kids” or “I just want to be able to kick a football with my son”.
We know that obesity is increasingly linked to serious illnesses such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure and more of a risk than alcohol for liver disease. If you are obese and carry a lot of your weight around your waist, you are even more at risk, as so-called ‘belly fat’ is associated with this pattern of health problems that we call the ‘metabolic syndrome’. Here, the fat isn’t so much laid down beneath the skin, but is found in increased amounts inside your body cavities – in and around your vital organs.
So men, with their ‘beer bellies’ or paunches, can be more at risk of health problems than women who often carry their fat around their bottom and thighs.
Also, obesity is associated with an increased risk of some cancers and of osteoarthritis, with a 3x increase in knee arthritis if you are overweight. So convincing your other half that his sport may suffer could be a way of persuading him to tackle the issue!
Furthermore, obesity can be associated with sleep apnoea – a condition where poor sleep overnight results in day-time drowsiness. Does he wake up several times at night fighting for breath? Does he drive you to distraction with his snoring? If you are as exhausted as he is the next day, it will affect your ability to make healthier choices and make your weight-loss attempts more difficult. He may then be tired during the day, falling asleep in front of the TV. Recent studies have found that people with sleep apnoea are twice as likely to be in a car-crash from nodding off at the wheel – not to mention the effect it has on productivity at work and his energy to kick that ball around with his son or his mates.
There used to be a feeling that you could be obese but still healthy – however, recent research has put paid to that as it shows that even people who seem to be healthy have changes in their blood vessels which can lead to heart disease and stroke in later life. So, he can’t fob you off with that excuse!
So, is he at risk?
Check out his waist measurement as it often seems to correlate better with health risks than weight measurement.
The waist to hip ratio is an even more useful indicator of risk – if his waist to hip ratio is over 1, he needs to try to reduce his waist circumference. The message is clear – if he is struggling to do up the button on his trousers, his health is at risk. Don’t buy a bigger size – get him to lose the waist instead!
You know that diets don’t work – and men often don’t buy into them anyway.
Instead, encourage him to make a few small, but sustainable changes to his everyday eating and behaviour that he will barely notice.
Here are a few:-
1. Serve slightly smaller portions – we are all more and more used to over-sized meals, all-you-can eat buffets or coffee and cakes big enough for two.
2. Make sure he cuts out fizzy drinks – at 10 teaspoons of sugar per can these are calories we just don’t need.
3. Watch the booze – a pint of beer can contain about 200 calories a pint – which can soon add up on a night out.
4. Avoid buying processed food wherever possible – with concerns about added sugar, salt, trans-fat and numerous other unhealthy additives, you (or he!) are far better cooking family meals from scratch.
5. And that means those calorie-laden takeaways, which can provide him with a day’s worth of calories in just one meal.
6. Keep moving – suggest he builds more activity into his day rather than joining a gym and then giving up after a week! Get him to use the stairs rather than lift or escalator, leave the car at home and try wherever possible NOT to save energy!
7. Also, studies have shown that aerobic exercise is effective at reducing central obesity and liver fa t- so send him off for a game of five-a-side with the guys from the office, as long as he promises not to finish the evening off with several beers and a kebab!
8. Get more sleep – science shows that a good night’s sleep improves your chances of making healthier choices the next day and helps weight-loss. If you are worried he may have sleep apnoea, send him off to the GP for treatment for both of your sakes! He may well be able to stop treatment when he loses weight.
9. Stress doesn’t help weight-loss either. It is not clear why fat accumulates in different ways and places – but we do know that the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ can increase unhealthy fat around the middle. Stress also leads to cravings for high fat and sugar foods, so encourage him to deal with the stress and weight loss will follow.
So, find an excuse to sit him down with this article and tell him what you know already – that losing weight doesn’t have to involve starving and slogging away at the gym. By building just a few healthy and sustainable changes into your family life, you will all benefit together.
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