Men are putting on weight and the diagnosis is grim | Neil Boom


More men are developing type 2 diabetes. I knew I was at risk, but I needed a nudge, writes Neil Boom, managing director of Gresham PR

Men, be warned. It seems we are not taking very good care of ourselves. Many of us are overweight and we are paying the price with poorer health. Research by charity the Mens Health Forum found men were over 25% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women. Shockingly, almost one in 10 men are now suffering from this disease.

The research also found that men were more than twice as likely to have a major amputation. Almost 70% of people presenting with a foot ulcer caused by type 2 diabetes are men. It gets grimmer. Untreated, type 2 diabetes kills, and it is now killing proportionately more men than ever, according to the study.

We cant ignore the facts that health messages are not getting through to many men. We are developing problems such as type 2 diabetes through a combination of obesity apparently the UK is the sixth fattest nation in the world and a woeful lack of exercise. In March, the NHSs annual review of obesity said one in four adults in England took less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week, compared to the recommended 150 minutes.

Is being overweight suddenly socially acceptable for men? Without the social stigma, is it now OK to be obese? Worryingly, Mens Health Forum says that more than half of overweight men think their weight is fine.

We are all too familiar with the social pressures on girls and women to be slim (and beautiful), and how this causes crippling anxiety leading to terrible eating disorders and self-harm. Surely, men can choose a healthy menu that avoids obesity, leading to poor health, without a diet of weight obsession leading to sickness?

What the report didnt reveal was information relating to mens ages or social backgrounds. It strikes me the vital missing ingredient is the extent to which our attitudes to health and weight depend on our friendship groups, ages and jobs. A friend I train with at the gym plays weekly five-a-side football with his mates and says theyre all fit and take their health and fitness seriously. None are overweight.

Most of my friends are middle aged like me. As we have got older, weve become much more concerned about our weight and general health and fitness. Still, theres usually some sort of catalyst before embarking on a weight loss and exercise regime. We all knew and understood the health messages, but needed a spur to action before taking them seriously.

For one, for whom diabetes runs in his family, it was coming last in the dads race at his sons school sports day that spurred him to take action. Another friend was prescribed medication for high blood pressure and started to lose weight to help better manage his condition. A friend who freelances for a living said his spur was the need to look youthful and in good physical shape when pitching for projects, in order to radiate vitality and demonstrate capacity to cope with the slog. For another mate, it was simply the approach of a significant birthday, and with it a bit of taking stock.

My catalyst was the kindness of male friends, by which I mean they took the mickey out me for being fat and unfit. In my late 30s and early 40s my weight had increased slowly. By my mid-40s it had jumped from a lithe 12 stone to a porky 15.5, and was showing no signs of stopping there. Long hours at my desk and client networking concentrated around eating and drinking, combined with little routine exercise had caught up with me. A health check at the doctors told me I was at risk of type 2 diabetes.

It was really the comments from friends that forced me finally into to action. One of my more kindly mates remarked that I was a little portly. Others were frankly blunter. Bluster and jokes are pretty typical ways that men get serious points over, but behind it I could detect some genuine concern for my welfare.

I found pleasure in a drastic life change. For eight months, out went all booze, bread, pasta, rice and sugary treats such as chocolate, biscuits and cake. In came running, regular trips to the gym with a personal trainer, smaller food portions and lots more fruit and salads. The weight fell off.

We all agree that media messages encouraging us to eat healthily and exercise on the whole have gone in. Yet a catalyst is often needed to turn thought into action.

Neil Boom is managing director of Gresham PR

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