CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — A slowing metabolism can be one of the downsides of adulthood, but is weight gain truly unavoidable? A new study finds men over 35 often see their increasing weight as “inevitable.” Moreover, researchers found many blame family and career commitments for their path towards obesity.
Several participants interviewed in a new study had some success with short-term eating plans, but soon put weight back on as the diets were “incompatible” in the longer term with their busy lifestyles — juggling work and home life. Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University also found that piling on the pounds produces feelings of despondency and low self-worth among middle-aged men.
A body mass index (BMI) of more than 25 falls into the category of being overweight, while anything over 30 qualifies as obese. According to the Health Survey for England, around two-thirds of men over 16 are overweight or obese. Among men between 35 and 64, almost a third are obese (31%).
Researchers from ARU and the University of Derby interviewed men over 35 participating in The Alpha Program (TAP), a football and weight management project provided in local community venues. Study lead author Dr. Mark Cortnage, a senior lecturer at ARU, ran the program. The study featured in-depth interviews with eight participants between 35 and 58.
Researchers explored their relationships with food and diet before enrolling in the program, why they felt they had put on weight, whether they were concerned about their health, any previous attempts to lose weight, and how they felt about being overweight or obese. Family and employment were the two main factors attributed to their predicament, with discussions highlighting a sense of resignation, and that weight gain was an inevitable consequence of their life choices.
Weight gain can seriously affect self-esteem
Participants also blamed comfort eating for much of the weight gain, but interviews showed little awareness of other nutritional factors, such as food types and portion sizes.
“I’ve always been quite active, always played football, always done something and then the kids came along, that stopped so before you know it you’re not younger and I was eating the same sort of stuff,” says one man, a 43-year-old with a BMI of 38.9, in a university release.
“There’s more pressure at work now because I’ve got more of a managerial role. So there’s more responsibility and more time there. So, there’s less flexibility in when you eat,” adds another participant, also 43 and with a BMI of 39.6.
Researchers say the discussions about weight were often tinged with despondency and showed self-objectification and a loss of self-esteem. However, despite awareness of both their mental state and the health risks of continuing their eating behaviors, attempts to change them were infrequent and non-committal.
“I feel down, what gets to me the worst is buying clothes and you go into a shop and see a really nice suit and you know they won’t have it in my size and a size 54 chest you know is getting quite ridiculous. It’s got to stop,” explains a 40-year-old man with a BMI of 49.9.
Men need more education on food choices
“There is a tendency to forget how much our lifestyle, in particular family and employment, impact on weight gain. This weight gain takes place over years and decades and as such, short-term dietary options fail to influence the deeper behavioral and lifestyle issues,” Dr. Cortnage says. “Obesity is increasing in the UK among men despite public health messaging, and one of the factors is that we are becoming increasingly time-poor.”
“One of the themes in our research was how some men had undertaken successful weight loss initiatives in the past, but had soon put the weight back on because the diets had been incompatible with their lifestyle in the longer term,” the study author continues. “Although they often mentioned comfort eating, participants also showed poor awareness of other factors that cause weight gain.”
“Many men would benefit from an education around food, such as food selection, integration of diet, sustainable weight management practices, in order to develop a more complete understanding of the relationships between food and lifestyle,” Dr. Cortnage concludes.
The findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.