The third chapter of the Ten to Men Australian longitudinal study on male health has reported 7 in 10 men aged 35-57 are either obese or overweight.
The group’s latest report - Overweight and Obesity among Australian males - says low physical activity was a key risk factor among young males aged 10-17 years for being overweight or obese, and for those over 18, other contributing factors were frequent medication use, poor diet, smoking, drinking and ‘lower overall life satisfaction.’
Covering 2013/2014 and 2015/2016, Ten to Men found that it was harder to sustain a normal or healthy weight as men got older. Across a two-year period, once overweight or obese, ‘around 9 in 10 men aged 35-57 who were overweight or obese, remained so two years later.’
The longer that men were overweight or obese, the more likely they were to develop several chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory problems and arthritis.
In addition to the personal cost to health and emotional wellbeing, the combined economic cost of obesity in Australia was estimated to be around $8.6 billion in 2011/12 including costs associated with health care, absenteeism from work, disability payments, unemployment and loss of productivity.
High ranking obesity levels
In 2018, Australia was ranked 9th out of 23 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries on overweight and obesity. Australia had the third highest proportion of overweight and obese males (71%), only behind the US and Chile (both 74%).
“Enhancing understanding of overweight and obesity among Australian males is vital for identifying those most at risk of developing these chronic health conditions, implementing preventive measures, and addressing associated health outcomes and their effects on the wider health care system,” write the authors of the Ten to Men study, Neha Swami, Brendan Quinn, Sonia Terhaag, Galina Daraganova
Body Mass Index (BMI) was used to determine whether a male was overweight (adult BMI from 25-30) or obese (BMI of 30 or more).
Among adult men, several health and lifestyle factors were linked to the risk of being overweight and obese. Men who were sedentary or not sufficiently active carried a higher risk of being overweight, and the odds of being overweight or obese was around 20% higher for men who regularly took over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (e.g ibuprofen, aspirin).
Those who ate the recommended five or more serves of vegetables a day, decreased the likelihood of being overweight or obese in adulthood by 24%. Men who didn’t smoke had a 40% lower likelihood of being overweight or obese; non-drinkers had 28% lower odds of being overweight or obese.
The study examined socio-demographic factors and found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and young men were almost twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared to non-Indigenous boys and young men. Adult men who lived in outer regional areas were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese, whereas men from CALD backgrounds (culturally and linguistically diverse) had significantly lower likelihood of being overweight or obese.
Married men and those in a de facto relationship had 1.4 times higher likelihood of being overweight or obese while men who had a university degree and were employed, were less likely to be overweight or obese.
Weighing the options
While weight can be managed by the individual or the community through self-management and initiatives that promoted healthy diets and increase physical activity, Ten to Men points out that a growing body of research, ‘suggests that holistic, innovative and longer-term approaches are necessary to combat overweight and obesity (and associated conditions) comprehensively and on a larger and more sustainable scale.’
‘Changing public housing conditions to address overweight and obesity, for instance, could involve landscaping properties to incorporate fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Such initiatives could form the dual purpose of encouraging healthier diets while promoting social connection. Further investigation is warranted to identify additional novel and cost-effective approaches to combat overweight and obesity across all levels of society and especially among high-risk groups (e.g. older males).’
The fact that males who were overweight or obese were significantly more likely to have consulted a health care service, presents an opportunity for health interventions from GPs, dieticians and specialist doctors.
'Effective monitoring and management of overweight and obesity in the population is important to contribute to efforts to reduce the burden on both individuals and the health care system.'