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What motivates men to lose weight?

Tackling obesity is a key government priority. Losing weight can improve people’s health in a range of ways, but also has an economic impact. It is estimated that the direct costs of obesity to the NHS are in the region of £6.3 billion for 2015, whilst local authorities are estimated to spend an extra £352 million providing social care for people who are severely obese.

Although it is not mandatory for local authorities to provide obesity interventions such as weight-loss programmes, it is clear that helping people to lose weight can support a range of public health targets.

More men than women are overweight or obese in the UK – 66% of men compared with 58% of women . In addition, men are less likely to lose that weight unsupported: recent NIHR research suggests that the chance of an obese person returning to a healthy body weight is 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women.

Despite this, men may be less likely to recognise that they are overweight or obese, and are less likely than women to engage with weight-loss programmes. A review of two large NHS weight-loss programmes found that only around 10% of referrals were men. But when men do engage with a weight-loss programme, they do well, with lower drop-out rates than women, and some evidence they may lose more weight than women.

What attracts men to join a weight-loss programme?

Men may be motivated to join a weight-loss programme if they understand their weight is a health issue – for example if they receive a diagnosis of a weight-related health condition from a GP or other health professional.

However, there is evidence that men are not attracted by standard weight-loss programmes. NIHR research suggests that men may find use of the term ‘dieting’ off-putting and to see weight-loss groups as primarily for women. Men may prefer programmes which emphasise healthy eating or physical activity instead.

Men seem to favour community settings and some men are attracted by the idea of a ‘men-only’ weight-loss group. For example, some studies have found that weight-loss programmes run through professional sports clubs to which men may feel a strong affiliation are popular and effective.

Key implications

More men than women are overweight or obese in the UK, but men are less likely than women to join weight-loss programmes. They may be less likely to realise they are overweight or obese, or the health risks associated with excess weight.

A diagnosis of obesity or an associated health issue may be a strong prompt for men to take action about their weight.

When men do join weight-loss programmes, they do well, with lower drop-out rates than women and some evidence they may lose more weight.

Men are more likely to join weight-loss programmes which:

  • Emphasise healthy eating and physical activity, rather than ‘dieting’
  • Are run through community settings, for example sports clubs to which some men may feel a strong sense of affiliation
  • Offer a ‘men only’ group option.

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