July 27, 2006

Obesity weighs more heavily on women than men

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Being overweight puts a greater
burden on women's health than men's, a new study shows.

Dr. Peter Muennig of Columbia University in New York and
colleagues calculated the amount of illness due to overweight
and obesity in the USA. They found that overweight cost US
women 1.8 million years of perfect health, compared to just
270,000 years lost for men. Obesity cost women 3.40 million
years of perfect health, compared to 1.94 million years for

Muennig suggested in an interview that this gender
difference could be due to the social stigma that excess weight
carries for women but not for men.

While many studies have looked at the effect of overweight
and obesity on mortality, Muennig and his team note, there is
little information on how excess weight might affect a person's
well-being while he or she is still alive. To investigate, the
researchers used a measurement called the quality-adjusted life
year (QALY), which represents a year of being perfectly
healthy, to determine the burden of disease associated with
obesity in a nationally representative sample of adults.

Most of the years of health that women lost to overweight
and obesity were due to poor health-related quality of life and
later-life mortality, the researchers note in the September
issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Death rates among overweight and obese women were lower
than for men up until age 45; after age 45, women's mortality
was far higher than men's.

Previous studies, which did not look at men and women
separately, have suggested that being overweight may actually
protect against mortality, Muennig told Reuters Health. "What
we were shocked to find is that men were really the primary
beneficiaries of any differences in the overweight category,
and that women actually had much higher morbidity and
mortality," he added.

In their report, the researchers suggest several
explanations for the gender differences.

"To me what makes more sense is that there's just a lot
more social stigma associated with being overweight amongst
females, and that that causes a lot more stress and distress,"
Muennig said. "There's evidence showing that high levels of
stress can increase your risk of morbidity and mortality."

The findings provide evidence, he added, that "the message
that women are getting in the mass media about their weight is
actually more harmful than we previously thought."

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, September 2006.