As a nation, we are fat and getting fatter—and that means something entirely different for men than it does for women.
On the medical side, a recent study says that obesity is three times more deadly for men than it is for women. The study, published in the July edition of the British medical journal The Lancet included 3.9 million adults in Europe and North America. The adults were between the ages of 20 and 90, none of them smoked, and none had any known chronic disease.
So here’s irony: Though obesity is far more dangerous for men, women suffer the most social pressure over it, from the dieting industry, from their employers, and even from medical professionals.
And so has everyone else, and not in a good way. Recent scholarship says that women tend to suffer from weight discrimination more than their male peers, and that’s even when they aren’t as obese as their male peers. This is particularly true in the workplace, where, research says, larger women don’t get hired as quickly, or evaluated as positively as their thinner peers, or promoted at the same rate, and they tend to earn salaries that are 6 percent lower than thinner women. In fact, according to University of Florida research, the thinner the woman, the bigger the paycheck—to the tune of some $22,000 a year.
(For obese men, the salary disparity hovers closer to 3 percent lower than their thinner peers.)
Obesity is based on an increase in weight above the BMI (body mass index) of 30, which is considerably above normal, and it’s is a serious public health issue, second only to smoking as a cause of premature death.
According to the Food Research & Action Center, more than a third of Americans are overweight, and the heaviest Americans have become even heavier in the last 10 years. A June article in the Journal of American Medical Association said that 35 percent of men in the U.S. are obese, compared to 40.4 percent of women—and that latter number is growing, researchers said.
Weight discrimination doesn’t stop at the workplace, though. A North Carolina study said that nearly two out of five medical students had an unconscious bias against overweight people. That can severely affect the quality of care given to an obese patient when a medical professional isn’t engaged with—or is disdainful of —a patient.
Some of the risk factors that accompany obesity include stroke, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. For women, that includes postmenopausal breast and endometrial cancer, particularly if the obesity is consistent over the course of years.
According to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “The State of Obesity” report, Connecticut has the ninth lowest adult obesity rate in the country, at 26.3 percent. But that’s up from 16 percent in 2000, and 10.4 in 1990. According to the report, Connecticut residents’ obesity is highest among people between the ages of 45 and 64 (31.3 percent) and lowest among adults between the ages of 18 and 25 (11.4 percent). The obesity rate by race is: 34.7 percent among African Americans, nearly 31 percent among Latinos, and 24.2 percent among Caucasians. Twenty-seven percent of Connecticut men are obese, and 24 percent of Connecticut women are obese.
There’s a fine line between body acceptance and obesity health risks, but if obesity is a fact of life–if we are getting bigger by the year—surely we can figure out a better and more gender-neutral way to live with our larger selves.
Susan Campbell is a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.