June 2020 #obsm chat blog: Gender Disparity in Weight Perception and Treatment
By Dr. Paul Davidson, PhD (@PaulDavidsonPhD)
While the rates of overweight and obesity are very similar for men and women, impacts on women tend to not only be more striking, but are also addressed more openly. For males, issues with excess weight tend to be both more private and less acknowledged in society. The implications of this for emotional and physical health, as well as access to treatment can have profound effects. Castonguay and colleagues in 2014 found that more than 90% of males experience some body dissatisfaction, and this self-scrutiny is even higher within the gay community. To many this may be a shock, but to most men, this is a rarely discussed fact.
According to Rebecca Puhl, boys are more likely than girls to be bullied for issues of weight, either being perceived as too heavy or too scrawny. This can happen in the form of cruel taunts or even being beaten up. Charles Ihrig said in 2009 that for males, there is some value in being perceived as a “big guy”. From old comic book ads for Charles Atlas targeting the “90 lbs. weakling” who wants to attract a girl or football coaches encouraging high school lineman to get close to 300 lbs., many young men are reinforced for getting big. At a certain point, “big” becomes simply “heavy” and burdensome. According to Doyle and Elgin, 2014, though, men are generally happier than women with their physical appearance and don’t engage in dieting behaviors to the same extent.
Men are less likely to seek medical attention than women, particularly with weight in part due to internalized shame and embarrassment (Burlew and Shurts, 2013). A study by Brennan, Lalonde, and Bain in 2010 showed that males seek treatment for their weight less often than women and tend to wait until they have more serious medical issues. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that women seek bariatric surgery at 3-4x the frequency of men despite having similar levels of obesity. It has been demonstrated that men are more likely to pursue surgery if referred by a physician, but doctors are less likely to suggest such a treatment for males than females. The particular issues that men face in regard to weight and body image may be different from many women and poses an important area for engagement.
In this month’s tweet chat, we’ll ask these questions:
1. What is your experience in terms of men being emotionally and physically abused due to weight issues and what are the ramifications of this?
2. How has a double standard been institutionalized for men regarding weight and masculinity? Does this affect how men perceive their own weight issues as opposed to women?
3. In what ways does the media reinforce myths about what men and women should look like? What have been some of the consequences of this?
4. What are some of the short- and long-term impacts of the observation that men are less likely to engage in dieting behaviors? What are the implications for women who are more prone to serially diet?
5. How might body dissatisfaction play out differently with men and how might treatment differ across the sexes?
6. What biases exist for men seeking medical treatment for weight loss? What can we do to change perceptions of obesity interventions for men and what can they learn from women?
Please join us – everyone welcome!