Weight loss for men: my experiences as a course leader – part 1

Fans of Brentford, Fulham, AFC Wimbledon, and Crystal Palace on the 2017 fanACTIV course.

Introduction

For someone who wants (or needs!) to lose body fat there are hundreds of options available.  Some have a strong evidence base, some are yet to be thoroughly tested, and some are outright quackery.  The offers include healthy eating and exercise courses run by local councils, popular commercial programmes like Weight Watchers or Slimming World, diet plans recommended by health professionals and non-professionals, exercise regimes, personal training, hypnotherapy; the list is endless. One of the questions that the prospective slimmer will find themself asking is, “which approach is right for me?”  The answers aren’t straightforward, particularly if you are a man.

In recent years there has been a growth in weight management courses specifically for men.  Slimming World offer a men’s course and Man v Fat have had some good weight loss results from their football-based programme.  In fact, football is growing and growing as the hook that is being used to get men interested in weight loss programmes.  In the UK the programme with the most longevity is Football Fans in Training (FFIT) run by the Scottish Premier League Trust.  UEFA have Active Fans for member clubs of their European Football Development Network and clubs in London ran a scheme called fanACTIV from 2015-2017.  Last season the English Football League Trust launched Fit Fans for men and women, which runs the FITT course under licence from Scotland.  

I have run many weight loss courses; mostly they have been for men.  Some have been related to supporting a particular football team (I led on the organisation of fanACTIV for Brentford alongside Tottenham and Fulham).  Others have been funded by local councils and focus on their residents.  Weight loss courses for men (as opposed to mixed-gender courses) are definitely on the rise, but male participation in any form of weight loss still lags behind female participation.  But why is that?  Let’s start by looking at some of the statistics.

Rates of participation 

According to a report by the leading market research agency Kantar (1), the number of adult Britons who said that they were trying to lose weight was 38% in 2019, up from 32% in 2014.  When they looked at gender differences they reported that 45% of women stated they were trying to lose weight (up from 38%) and 30% of men (up from 20%).  So that would mean that more women in the UK are overweight or obese than men, right?  Wrong.  According to Kantar’s National Health and Wellness Survey from 2018, 60% of men are overweight/obese compared to 53% of women.  So why are a larger proportion of overweight women trying to lose weight than overweight men?  

In a recent study, Elliott(2) in 2020 interviewed male participants and non-participants in weight loss programmes to examine their motivations.  They reported two prevalent attitudes, which influenced the generally low take up of these services by men; a) female dominated services, and b) incompatibility of existing services for men.  When digging deeper into the effect that this had on men they said that men stated that this imbalance resulted in feelings of self-consciousness, shame and a perceived stigma for men using weight loss services. They concluded that, to increase uptake in weight loss services by men, the content and promotion should be tailored specifically to men.  This chimes with conversations that I have had with the men on my courses.  I will take a look at the content of courses in Part 3, but next, in Part 2, I will examine the methods of promotion of weight loss programmes for men.  

References

  1. 38% of UK adults say they are trying to lose weight – Kantar. https://uk.kantar.com/business/health/2019/38-of-uk-adults-say-they-are-trying-to-lose-weight/ 
  2. Elliott, M; Gillison, F; and Barnett, J (2020) Exploring the influences on men’s engagement with weight loss services: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health

Published by healthylifeneil

Exercise and healthy lifestyles specialist working in West London.

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