Men's Health Week 2017: Research Briefing

Men’s Health Week 2017 is themed around the problem of abdominal obesity – or ‘belly fat’. The research below outlines why:

Too many men are overweight – they don’t realise (and women don’t realise either) – and it’s killing them

  • 67.8% of men are now overweight or obese vs. 58.1% of women.   26.9% of men are obese vs. 26.8% of women. (HSE 2015).
  • The National Child Measurement Programme shows boys are now more likely to be overweight or obese than girls at Reception (22.7% vs. 21.5%) and Year 6 (36.0% vs. 32.3%).  (NCMP 2015/16).  The 2015 Health Survey for England of children 2-16 shows a similar gap: 30% vs. 26%.
  • In general, men are less likely to perceive themselves – and women are less likely to perceive men – as too heavy.
    • In the “Attitudes to Obesity” report taken from the 2015 Social Attitudes Study:
      • People tended to overestimate what obesity means in terms of body size
        • · 54% correctly identified when a woman is obese
        • · 39% correctly did this for a man
      • Among those men whose self-reports of weight and height placed them in the ‘obese’ category, just 25% of men said that they were “very” overweight, whereas 35% of obese women did so.
      • Similarly, 77% of apparently overweight women said they are either “very” or “a bit” overweight, whereas, amongst overweight men, the equivalent figure was 71%.
    • In the 2013 Health Survey for England
      • Only 45.1% of men perceive themselves to be too heavy (vs. 53.4% of women) and only 40.4% are trying to lose weight (vs. 55.7% of women). 
      • 44.3% of overweight men think they are too heavy vs. 68.7% of overweight women.  42.1% are trying to lose weight vs. 66.4% of women.
      • 89.6% of obese men think they are too heavy (and 10.4% of overweight men think they are fine) vs. 96.1% of obese women (and 3.9% of obese women think they are not overweight or obese). 72.4% vs. 79.8% are trying to lose weight.
      • 80.4% of men with a waist > 102 cm think they are too heavy vs. 82% of women with a waist >88cm. 62.9% vs. 71% are trying to lose weight.
    • In the 2012 Health Survey for England, 22% of overweight or obese boys consider themselves to be too heavy vs. 29% of overweight or obese girls.

Men’s excess weight – especially round the belly is leading directly to higher levels of diabetes and cancers, such as prostate cancer.

  • Men get diabetes at a lower BMI (N Sattar et al. 2011) and are the majority of those with diabetes (9.6% of men have diabetes vs. 7.6% of women).
  • There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of advanced prostate cancer. 
    (World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Prostate Cancer. 2014. Available at:

Services and health professionals are also failing men. 

  • Among 90 local authorities who responded to a 2017 Men's Health Forum FOI request, only 23% of tier 2 adult local authority weight management participants in 2016/17 were male. Around half (46 out of 90) were taking initiatives to reach and engage men more effectively. A surprising number (24%) of local authorities providing services still aren’t tracking the gender of people who use their services. (Source: Men's Health Forum FOI 2017).
  • Despite the high level of men (and women) being overweight or obese, referral rates from the NHS Health Check are shockingly low – especially for men. 2.2% of men doing NHS Health Checks were referred to weight management services vs. 3.5% of women. (Source: Men’s Health Forum FOI 2015).
  • Men are still a minority (26% in 2013) of those receiving bariatric surgery – although this has increased from 16% in 2006.

    “An important trend since the inception of the United Kingdom registry in 2009 has been the increasing proportion of men seeking surgery. In 2006, 16% of those having primary procedures were men, while in 2013 the proportion had risen to almost 26%. It is important to recognise that while men in the United Kingdom are more likely to be overweight or obese, and the rates of obesity (BMI >30 kg m-2) for men and women are similar; women dominate the class III obese category by around 2:1 (1.5% for men and 3.0% for women). Men who have surgery tend to be a little older and have, on average, a higher BMI than women, and they make up just 10% and 24% of those having surgery in the class I and Class II ranges respectively. Therefore, the increase in the proportion of patients who are men, from 16% to 26%, represents a major step towards gender equity in those electing to have surgery, especially for men with Class III obesity.” (UK National Bariatric Surgery Register).

    Class I obesity is defined by a BMI of 30-34.9 kg/m2. Class II obesity is defined by a BMI of 35-39.9 kg/m2. Class III obesity is defined by a BMI of 40  kg/m2 or more. (NICE).

The Men’s Health Forum need your support

It’s tough for men to ask for help but if you don’t ask when you need it, things generally only get worse. Especially during a major pandemic like Covid-19. So we’re asking.

Men appear more likely to get Covid-19 and far, far more likely to die from it. The Men's Health Forum are working hard pushing for more action on this from government, from health professionals and from all of us. Why are men more affected and what can we do about it? We need the data. We need the research. We need the action. Currently we're the only UK charity doing this - please help us.

Here’s our fund-raising page - please chip in if you can.

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