“Not what the Dr should order!” Halt gender weight loss bias against men, GPs urged
The NHS should urgently tackle a ‘gender bias’ among health professionals as they appear to be reluctant to refer men to weight management services despite positive results, experts from the University of Oxford, Men’s Health Forum and Slimming World suggest.
Currently men make up only one in 10 patients attending commercial weight management programmes like Slimming World through referral by the NHS, despite being more likely to be overweight than women and more likely to carry dangerous excess fat around the waist.
Now a study of 940 patients by the University of Oxford has shown that when health professionals verbally offer referral to men and women equally, based on BMI and without the risk of gender bias, the proportion of referrals who are male jumps to nearly four in 10 – a rise of almost 400%.
Study author, Professor Paul Aveyard of the University of Oxford, said: “It looks like GPs and nurses are presuming that men would not want to use a commercial weight management programme, but our evidence suggests they would if health professionals offered it and recommended it.
“Our study found that an NHS referral and a simple recommendation like ‘I think this could be good for you’ is enough to persuade many men to cast aside any reservations they might have and to give a weight management group a try. And our data supports previous findings that when men do join these groups, they do very well – even better than women in fact. These schemes represent good value for the NHS.”
The findings were released during Men’s Health Week (12-18 June), which is this year focusing on raising awareness of the dangers of carrying excess fat around the waist.
Martin Tod, Chief Executive of the Men’s Health Forum, added: "What this research shows is that it's not just men who need to change their attitudes about their weight - health professionals do too. Men who might benefit from weight management services are missing out because they're not being told about them. Yet when they are told about them, many men do use them and, despite what might be expected, many men really benefit from them."
Latest figures from NHS Digital show that 68% of men and 58% of women are overweight or obese, and yet weight worries are often associated more with women than men. This could be because men are less likely to vocalise them. Last year’s ‘Machobesity Report’, by Slimming World, revealed that while 95% of men want to lose weight, mainly for health reasons, men typically keep weight worries to themselves for more than six years on average.
I’m proof that weight loss groups work just as well for men as they do for women
Paul Sharpe, Slimming World’s Partnerships Manager, who manages the organisation’s NHS referral programmes and lost 3st himself, says: “We welcome the results of this study. This is a particularly important issue because not only are men more likely to be overweight than women, they’re also less likely to talk about it and less likely to take action to manage their weight.
“Once they set their mind to it though, men do seem to be good at slimming down. While women lose an average of 4.3% of their body weight in three months at Slimming World, men lose an impressive 5.7% - that’s way above the 3% that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says can improve health.
“And it seems that more and more men are becoming open to the idea of seeking weight loss support. There are now 60,000 men attending Slimming World and the vast majority of our groups now have a few men in them.
“Public health commissioners are increasingly looking at ways to engage more men in evidence-based interventions and we’re working hard to let them know that, given the choice, men really are interested in attending weight loss groups. We are starting to see an improvement in gender balance in some referral schemes, but certainly more needs to be done.”
Men’s health was a topic of discussion at Slimming World’s inaugural Obesity Policy Workshop, in March 2017, which was attended by health experts and politicians. Slimming World believes it must remain high on the public health agenda.
My GP said “Daniel, you know exactly what to do.” Unfortunately I didn’t…
Danny Crosby, 45, from Altrincham in Cheshire, lost an amazing 8st and is Slimming World’s current Man of the Year.
“I wasn’t always overweight. In fact, my step-father used to call me the ‘runt of the family’ when I was younger. I was born with back problems and always felt self-conscious and very ashamed about my body and the way I walked and ran.
“As I got older and started eating more unhealthily – I practically lived on convenience foods and takeaways as an adult – I started to gain weight. In a way though, because I’d always felt small and weak, becoming larger in size gave me a sense of being bigger and stronger. It’s more ‘manly’, I suppose.
“As time went on though and I got bigger and bigger, I did start to feel self-conscious about my increasing size.
“I can remember visiting the GP about 10 years before I joined Slimming World. I told him I was concerned about how much weight I was gaining and asked if he had any advice. He just said “Daniel, you know exactly what to do,” and he left it at that. Unfortunately, I didn’t – if I had done then I’d have been doing it.
“It’s a shame really as if he’d suggested getting support then I’m sure I’d have listened. And, if I had, then maybe I would never got to 20st 4lbs, which is what I weighed at my heaviest.
“As it happened though, it was to be another decade before I’d seek out the support I needed to lose weight and that was only because my sister nagged me to give Slimming World a try! Not all men are lucky enough to have a sister like mine though – she wasn’t giving up!
“I think the fact that GPs often don’t think to recommend slimming clubs to men is a reflection of how, as a society, we view men and women. We almost expect men to sort things out for themselves, without support, but it’s a prejudice really isn’t it? Men often see asking for help as a sign of weakness and yet the truth is that we’re often less clued up on health than women, we tend not to talk about it with friends and we don’t know where to go or what to do if we have concerns.
“There’s nothing wrong with men getting a bit of help with their weight though. At Slimming World you still have personal responsibility and you’re never molly-coddled or told what to do. I was educated on the methodology and supported to build these changes into my day-to-day life.
“Many men see the gym as the socially acceptable way to lose weight but I was too self-conscious and too unfit for that before I lost weight. However, as I slimmed down and my confidence and fitness improved, I started building gym sessions into my life too, alongside going to group.
“We’ve got to encourage men to be willing to have a conversation about their weight and to be open minded as to what will work for them. I want them to know that support can really help.
“I’m proof that weight loss groups work just as well for men as they do for women, and so I think it’s important that health professionals recommend them as an option for both genders.”
Danny’s Men’s Health Week video: https://bcove.video/2racx6g
 This is a new analysis of the data in this published study: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)31893-1/fulltextThis was a parallel, two arm, randomised trial, where 940 patients were offered referral if they had a Body Mass Index of at least 30kg/m² (or at least 25 if of Asian ethnicity). The vast majority of referrals in this study were to Slimming World. This latest analysis is yet to be published but has been released early by the University of Oxford to coincide with Men’s Health Week.
About Slimming World
Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. There are now more than 16,000 weekly groups supporting 900,000 members across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Groups are run by a network of 4,500 community-based Slimming World Consultants, who receive specific training in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as sophisticated behaviour-change techniques.
Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of satiety and energy density. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by overweight people and recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating behaviour change in a warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.