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March 2020

Obesity’s Gender Divide: Health Effects Differ for Men, Women

Diabetes. Heart disease. Lung disease. Cancer. They’re all major causes of death. And research now shows, they’re all linked to one risk factor: obesity.

A new 400,000-person study showed extra pounds weigh down everyone’s health. Obesity’s specific effects, however, may differ between men and women. 



The consequences of heft

Obesity isn’t just an American problem. Around the world, numbers on the scale are climbing.     

As they do, doctors have increasingly recognized the health risks. Using genetic data, the new study shows obesity is linked to:

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Stroke

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Lung cancer

  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

  • Both nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and chronic liver disease

  • Acute and chronic kidney failure

In an intriguing twist, the results also found different effects between men and women.   

Women with a higher body mass index (BMI) had greater odds of type 2 diabetes than men. And compared with women, men with large waist-hip ratios were more likely to have COPD or chronic kidney failure.

The reasons for these differences aren’t entirely clear. Hormones may play a role. Sex chromosomes themselves might have effects on the interaction between extra fat, metabolism, and inflammation. These factors lead to many of these diseases.

Reversing the trend

While the effects may differ, the commonly recommended prevention strategies for obesity remain largely universal. To ward off—or reverse—it:

  • Eat smart. Add high-fiber foods, fruits, and vegetables to your plate. Check your portion sizes. And consider your cup—beverages can easily add excess calories and pounds.

  • Move more. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. And pump some iron at least twice a week—the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

  • Stress less. Excess pressure can increase the likelihood of weight gain. Relieve tension by relaxing with friends, meditating, or reading.




Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2020
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