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Social status protects women (but not men) from obesity

Men of all ages and social backgrounds are more likely than women to be overweight and obese, but nearly four times less likely to have weight-loss surgery, according to new research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

One of the stand-out statistics, published in the AIHW’s annual reports on men’s health and women’s health, is the finding that social status appears to protect women, but not men, from being overweight and obese.

Being overweight or obese is a health issue that now affects 71% of Australian men and 56% of Australian women.  

On average, men are nearly 1.3 time more likely than women to be overweight or obese, though other factors such as age and social status also play a role.

For example, men over 55 are nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese than men under 25. Similarly, women over 65 are more than twice as likely to be overweight than women under 25.

Social status doesn’t protect men

While getting older puts both men and women at increased risk of becoming overweight and obese, social status appears to have a different impact.

According the the AIHW’s findings, the risk of being overweight and obese for men compared with women from the same background  is:

  • 27% higher for the general population
  • 20% times higher for those living in the poorest areas
  • 44% times higher for those living in the richest areas

In terms of socioeconomic status, the biggest gender gap is experienced by men living in the poorest areas who are 52% more likely to be overweight and obese than women living in the richest areas.

Overall, while social status reduces women’s risk of being overweight and obese by 27%, the impact is just 6% in men.

Men less likely to have surgery

Excess body weight is a risk factor for many conditions, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis.

While excess weight is commonly managed using dietary intervention and exercise, for those who are morbidly obese or who are obese and have other conditions related to their excess weight, weight loss surgery may be appropriate.

Women are nearly four times more likely to have weight loss surgery than men. In 2014–15, men accounted for 21% of people having weight loss surgery (4,800) and women accounted for 79% (18,000).


READ: If kids are overweight tell day, say researchers (AMHF) 

READ: New data: 10 surprising facts about men's health in Australia


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