Why Are Women Gaining Faster Than Men?

June 27, 2016

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Believe it or not, America’s fight against obesity has reached the 30-year mark. So, how are we doing in the battle against this chronic disease? Brace yourself – the overall news isn’t great. But read to the end to understand why all is not lost.

As reported by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in early June, obesity rates in the US have not only not budged, but have actually grown slightly worse. Among adult men and women, 35% and 40.4% currently have a diagnosis of obesity, respectively. The rate for men has remained relatively constant over the last decade, but women have experienced a 5% increase in obesity over the same time period. What is going on here?

The researchers studying obesity rates appear to be stumped over the results. Despite years of apparent earnest attempts and vast amount of money applied to reversing obesity trends, nothing seems to have put the kind of dent into the problem we had perhaps expected to see. While CMWL did not participate in the research, we have a few thoughts on what may be driving the lack of progress.

1. Most Americans seeking weight loss follow either self-help or commercial weight loss programs.
The American Medical Association only just recently officially declared obesity a chronic disease in 2013, which means that commercial products and programs have been the predominant weight loss approach of choice for most Americans. Statistics show that 95% those who lose weight using these methods regain all of the weight they lost, and in many cases more. Commercial options are missing the essential medical component and clinical protocols that are proven to help people lose weight and keep it off. Medical weight loss is still in its infancy and industry experts are forecasting its rapid growth due to demand.

2. The food industry doesn’t make it easy.

Manufacturers of processed and packaged foods have largely depended on using fat, sugar, and salt to keep food prices low and consumption high. These ingredients, especially when eaten in large amounts, are a primary contributor to weight gain. Historically, manufacturers have often injected vitamins into products in order to make “healthy food” claims, but the American public has luckily started to see through this tactic. There are signs of positive change within the food industry, such as new nutrition labels providing more transparency into ingredients, but consumers must continue to take it upon themselves to truly understand what they are putting in their bodies.

3. Modern life makes us more sedentary.

By modern life, we mostly mean technology. On the one hand, new technology has afforded us the types of conveniences we could only have dreamed of before. But those conveniences come at a price to our health. For instance, instead of actively shopping at a mall or department store, we now buy clothes or household items online while sitting on the couch. NetFlix gives us endless hours of content on demand, enabling a whole new type of ‘binge.’ These digital services promote a lot of lying around, which works against effective weight loss and maintenance. And even when we lie down to get a good night’s sleep, we can’t because of all of the LED lights on our devices!  And a lack of sleep is tied directly to increased body weight. Oh the modern life…

As for why women appear to be gaining faster than men, there are no clear answers. Due to hormonal differences, women have always had a more difficult time losing weight and keeping it off compared to men, so what has changed? One hypothesis we might want to consider is the average age of women bearing their first child. Thirty years ago that age was 21 compared to 26 today. And since 1980 the number of women having their first child after age 40 has more than quadrupled. As evidence has shown, we all naturally tend to put on more weight and have a harder time taking it off as we age. “Baby weight” may exacerbate “aging weight” in women. Again, this is just thinking out loud. Much more research is required to truly understand what is causing the increase in women’s obesity status.

While we all might be tempted to be discouraged by this recent report, we personally see signs of great hope and optimism in it. Now that we know what hasn’t worked effectively, we can now pave the way for what we know does work, which is the medical treatment of obesity. We are excited for the growth of medical weight loss around the country and look forward to seeing a much different report on obesity trends after it has gained traction. And remember, it’s people like you who take an active interest in improving your health through weight loss that truly make all the difference. Keep up the good works!

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