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Gender differences in weight gain

September 10, 2009

Men and women are different when it comes to gaining weight, and men have a physiological and biological advantage when it comes to losing it. And well, statistics from WHO (World Heath Organisation) do show that more women of the world are obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m²), but interestingly, when it comes to just being overweight (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m²), more men are so.

Here’s a quick glance at some figures:

Men: 16.8% overweight and 1.1% obese.
Women: 15.2% are overweight and 1.4% are obese.

United Kingdom:
Men: 65.7% are overweight and 21.6% are obese.
Women: 61.9% are overweight and 24.2% are obese.

United States:
Men: 75% are overweight and 36.5% are obese.
Women: 72.6% are overweight and 41.8% are obese.

Men: 54.5% are overweight and 11.8% are obese.
Women: 44.9% are overweight and 11% are obese.

United Arab Emirates:
Men: 66.9% are overweight and 24.5% are obese.
Women: 69.7% are overweight and 39.4% are obese.

Men: 45.6% are overweight and 7.8% are obese.
Women: 34.7% are overweight and 6.6% are obese.

Men: 65.1 % are overweight and 21% are obese.
Women: 55.1% are overweight and 20.4% are obese.

Men: 52.7% are overweight and 12.9% are obese.
Women: 38.3% are overweight and 12.6% are obese,

Men: 64.5% are overweight and 22% are obese.
Women: 74.2% are overweight and 45.5% are obese.

Men: 21.9% are overweight and 2% are obese.
Women: 32.2% are overweight and 6% are obese.

Men: 27% of Japanese men are overweight and 1.8% are obese.
Women: 18.15 of the women are overweight and 1.5% are obese.

Men: 33.1% are overweight and 1.6% are obese.
Women: 24.7% of the women are overweight and 1.9% are obese.

As it’s the gender difference that I want to compare (not the prevalence of obesity which is dependent on many complex factors including socio-economic factors) let’s take another look at the statistics and see which country has the most significant gender differences.

In India for example, there are relatively fewer gender differences in weight. The percentile difference between overweight men and women is only 1.5%, and just .3% between obese men and women (check statistics given above). If one compares these percentile gender differences to those of other nations, the Indian gender differences are insignificant. What this means is that overweight and obesity is more or less equally divided between both sexes in India.

It’s a little startling to see statistics from the United Arab Emirates. The percentile difference between overweight UAE men and women is  2.8% (more women being overweight) but it is the percentile difference for obesity that is significant. It is a whopping 14.9% and again it is the women who lead here. This means that a greater percentage of UAE women are overweight and obese as compared to their men. Egyptian women fare worse as this is another place with wide gender differences when it comes to overweight and obesity, wider than that of the UAE.  And like the UAE, in Egypt too it is the women who lead the score. 9.7%  for overweight and 23.5% for obesity.

These statistics assume significance because in a large number of countries of the world, a higher percentage of the men are overweight, not the women, although a higher percentage of the women are obese in the rest of the world too. But few countries have the kind of ratios that say Egypt has.

As lifestyle factors play an important part in obesity, perhaps the lifestyle of the women is adding to this unhealthy trend. The UAE is a wealthy nation and keeping domestic workers is the practice there. Likewise in Egypt, although Egypt is not a wealthy country. But one wonders why Indian women are not overweight in greater numbers even though they are used to domestic workers? A recent three-year-long countrywide study in India on 4,621 women could perhaps give a clue. The study shows a significant rural-urban difference. It shows that two out of three women in urban India above the age of 35 was overweight but only one in three women in rural India above the age of age of 35 was so. According to the study, more of the urban women lead a sedentary lifestyle.

In most of the world more women are obese than men, even if more men are overweight. In the United States, the percentile difference between obese men and women is 5.3%, with  more women being obese. In the United Kingdom the percentile difference between obese men and women is 2.6%, again with more women being obese. An interesting graph on obesity trends in the US.

Looks like the lifestyle of American men is changing as they are catching up with their women. Does this mean that American men will soon overtake their women when it comes to obesity? And is it because they are leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle? Or are women becoming slimmer?

In some countries in western Europe the women seem slim as compared to their men. The percentage of obese men is more than the percentage of obese women and this goes against the trend in the rest of the world. In Sweden for example, the percentage of obese men is slightly more (.8%) than the percentage of obese women. Ditto in France (1.2%), Germany(.6%) and Italy (.3%) These percentages are small enough to be insignificant but to me they are significant because they go against the general trend. But why are more Swedish, German, Italian and French women slimmer than their American or British counterparts? Could they be more weight conscious?

I don’t have the answers and nor am I an expert on this subject. Just a little intrigued. You are welcome to add your thoughts.

Related Reading: Will human beings ever be satisfied with the quantity of food they get to eat?
Some excellent hundred year old diets!
Blaming India for eating too much
Being plump is admired in India

53 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2009 12:23 am

    Interesting post. More than the body weight,the type of obesity is more important. Central obesity seen commonly in Indians and other South Asians marked by more body fat in the abdomen carries much more risk for cardiovascular diseases than the fat deposition in thighs and arms. Even with BMI of normal range [23 to 25] if the waist circumference is more than normal [more than 90 in males and more than 80 in females], risk for Diabetes and Cardio vascular diseases is more. In Indians many experts believe that BMI more than 23 should be considered as over weight.

  2. September 11, 2009 12:42 am

    More than 70% of American men and women are overweight? Makes me think…..
    Is this measured by BMI?

  3. September 11, 2009 2:12 am

    This is interesting, Nita! It makes me wonder if obesity is not related to satisfaction with roles in life, and not alone activity. Active people seem to be more contented and at ease with their lot in life, take away socio-economic factors. Socially valued people, those who contribute to the overall health and well-being of their communities, seem to me to be lighter, more active and more engaged. Obesity is a complex relationship. I do wonder if complicating factors may be left out of the statistics, or if the statistics see only the final tendency, but not the complexity of underlying factors. This post should see some varied responses, and is a good one to stimulate discussion of a more complex sort.
    By the way, I like your photo at the header of the blog. You seem approachable; someone I would happily engage in discussion, any day! G

  4. September 11, 2009 4:15 am

    this was really interesting..I am wondering if they ever did this about underweight..

  5. September 11, 2009 5:46 am

    Irony, People In India, think becoming Overweight is a Sign You are Financially Sound. I have seen people celebrating extra kilos on their body ( yes, true) I am 5.8 and weigh 70Kg, Yet People from My village (Village People Only) Ask me to Gain Some Weight.
    Where as in other Countries, they feel so bad but about being overweight. Yet, they can’t make it to that perfect figure thing.
    !!!Everyone Cribbing About Something!!!!

    • September 11, 2009 7:04 am

      Asif,what you said is very true.Those in the villages like gaining weight and there are sound historical and health reasons for that.

      Till 1980s major cause of premature deaths in villages in India are mostly infections caused by various bacterias and protozoas [malaria].Most deaths occur in under nourished people with no body fat to resist and withstand an illness.So traditionally villagers know that those who are thin die sooner than those who are well nourished.

      With the economic and food situation improving and with the use of more and more antibiotics, deaths due to excess food and sedentary habits are increasing much more in Cities and Towns compared to villages. So the change ‘Fat is good’ to ‘Fat is bad’ has taken place in affluent communities of the Citites but not so in Villagers.

    • September 11, 2009 10:50 am

      hahahhaa interesting analogy. I think this is because in olden days, rich sahukaars and zameendars used to have loads of money, so they never had to work, resulting in them being obese… while the poor had to slog for money!

      So, even today a fat person is generally called “Khaate peete ghar ka 😛 “

  6. September 11, 2009 6:11 am

    Wow, you’re getting more and more in-depth with your statistics.

    Gender differences in weight gain is something I had never thought of, so there’s lot of food for thought here. Don’t have any thoughts to share at present.

  7. September 11, 2009 6:29 am

    what an in depth study
    from where did u get all this stats

  8. September 11, 2009 6:53 am

    Very interesting Nita. I wonder what these statistics mean… Urban India seems to be becoming aware of a need to control obesity, even women.

    Traditionally physical fitness was associated with manliness, …maybe men perform more physical (manual) work in the cities, while women work at home.

  9. September 11, 2009 9:19 am

    Cells in Indian’s are genetically programmed to store fat because of a long history of draughts and famines. It was a contingency store survive without food.

  10. September 11, 2009 10:37 am

    There are many inferences in this study; but the same reason for a result might not be applicable to the other..

    1. Italy and France are the fashion capitals of the world; So I guess, looking slim is a trend.. But then why Sweden and Germany are in the same list??

    2. In the US graph, as time progress, I think, workload increases, therefore, more eating out, late dinners, more junk food.. Welcome to corporate world.. 🙂

    I don’t know, there is too much disparity in the figures.. Rich countries, poor countries, developing countries, None follows a trend.. I guess, its an unpredictable as the human nature…

    Talking of obesity, I guess, this why, definitely, we are fat..

  11. September 11, 2009 10:48 am

    An excellent point to ponder over Nita!

    I believe putting on weight has 2 major reasons:

    1. Psychological reasons like stressing out – A lot of psychiatrists believe that people tend to fill up the void in their lives by stuffing themselves with food and that is true. Women in general tend to be stressed out more than men. If you notice, very few women are able to chill out after a bitter fight, while more men tend to get back to normalcy very fast!

    2. Hormonal Changes – The kind of hormonal changes a woman’s body goes through some times tends to make her obese!

    A good food for thought! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  12. September 11, 2009 10:48 am

    And I agree with the first link in the post.. “Men and women are different when it comes to gaining weight, and men have a physiological and biological advantage when it comes to losing it.. ”

    My boyfriend and I started swimming together.. Same time duration, same no. of laps even.. Even my diet is 1/3 of his.. He eats 6 rotis, I have 2.. Yet, He lost 2 kilos in 2 months and me, a measly 0.5 😦

    Then we started gymming.. same story.. he lost 2 kilos, I went of a total strict diet, then I managed 1 kilo lose.. Grr.. I hate men… 😦

  13. rags permalink
    September 11, 2009 1:44 pm

    Nita, considering that Indian records are so poorly maintained and many people from the middle class have never seen the inside of a govt. hospital I wonder how the statistics for India have been arrived at?

    BTW, I am shocked at the level of overweight people in the U.S. Considering this huge obsession they seem to be having with skinny celebrities and models I had thought more number of them would be health conscious.. Regarding U.A.E. and Egypt I think their obesity epidemic is not only because of their army of servants but also because women are not allowed to indulge in outdoor and athletic activites.. (sports, swimming etc). And Japan seems to have slimmer people though it is a rich industrialised country. Could be because of their diet..

  14. September 11, 2009 2:26 pm

    Nita: There are several behavioural explanations for the difference between men and women’s patterns in weight gain and relative success at weight loss. A finer dicing of data will reveal things such as child birth, and changes in life style after child birth, for instance.

    The British Birth cohort study of 1970 says that low self-esteem as children makes for obese adults, with the effect more pronounced in women than in men.

    Although @Nova is not quite accurate re psychological explanations. Evidence is conflicting and psychologists do not agree on what stress does to appetite.

    • September 11, 2009 5:38 pm

      Shefaly, thanks. I was in fact hoping that you would come to this post. 🙂 That angle of changes in lifestyle after childbirth etc is so true! One automatically get a little confined to the home at that time, and most women have to take out time to keep themselves fit. That bit about self esteem is bang on! I believe that this is the key issue here. If one loves oneself one would want to feel good. I am not even talking of looks here, but fitness. And I agree with you about the pscyhological aspect, how stress affects one’s eating habits. I personally cannot eat if I am stressed. But may be I am not the norm.

    • rags permalink
      September 11, 2009 5:43 pm

      Yeah, I agree. Stress can also lead to weight loss in the short term.

  15. September 11, 2009 2:51 pm

    that is some research!
    wonder who comes up with all these stats.

  16. September 11, 2009 3:02 pm

    And in between all this I have put on weight 😛 I think I am about to enter the over weight group(hopefully can burn it off :P) ..

    What I noticed was how in countries like India, China etc there are less obese people…these countries are labor intensive, maybe thats got to do something with it?

    • September 11, 2009 5:25 pm

      Vishesh: Re India and China, it is not about where you are, but about where you are going. Both countries are not going anywhere very desirable as far as obesity is concerned 🙂

    • vasudev permalink
      September 12, 2009 7:12 pm

      vishesh.. u need to get off that computer, dicorce the blogs and take up some games

  17. September 11, 2009 5:12 pm

    Charakan, true what you say. India has reworked its obesity guidelines in keeping with the WHO guidelines about South Asians. The BMI cut-off (for being overweight) for Indians has been lowered from 25 to 23 by the Indian Health Ministry.

    shilpa, yes its the BMI. Actually someone with a BMI of 25 may not look overweight as such, but well technically he/she is.

    suburbanlife, thanks for that last sentence. I too feel the same about you. 🙂
    Ofcourse you are right, these stats are just the final cold figure, and leave out the complexity completely. The actual causes of obesity are so many that it is far too complex a subject to tackle. That psychological aspect that you have brought out is interesting. I personally feel that a healthy mental make-up automatically makes the person more active and engaged with life (which means more burning of calories) and self esteem is also important to prevent obesity. But then often people go through different phases in their life so even here it is difficult to say.

    Rambler, I wish too. I was underweight for the major part of my life and in fact even went to a doctor at the age of 24 for this “disease.” Luckily my doc sent me packing and said I was fit and fine! 🙂 Unfortunately it was a few relatives of mine who convinced me that I wasn’t “healthy” enough!

    Asif, exactly! my kids were also on the thinner side and whew, the kind of remarks I had to bear! The truth of it was, that they were never ever sick! My children never had to take antibiotics, ever. They never needed them. Try telling that to a fool who thinks fat people are healthy people!!

    Mahendra, thanks. Take your time, because this is my last post for the next several weeks! 🙂 Am going on a vacation.

    anjugandhi, I have linked to the relevant websites.

  18. September 11, 2009 5:31 pm

    Indian Homemaker, that true, women generally do housework and even that doesn’t burn too many calories if one has help! But office jobs have made men’s lives sedentary too.

    Charakan, thats an interesting comment to Asif. The belief that fat is good is related to more primitive times, but I guess it persists in some people, even in the cities. When my baby was born, many years ago, my doctors immediately pronounced her healthy and gave her a 10, but the bai who worked in my house pronounced her unhealthy as she was thin! Once this bai insisted on giving my little one a massage and my baby (who did not like strangers) gave her such a hard sock with one hand and a kick with her tiny feet that this bai told me. “Aapki beti kamzor nahi hai!” haha!

    Rashid, yes that is a theory that some believe., complicated it is! But as your link suggests it is basically input vs output! And I too think that west European women are quite figure conscious. And men have the advantage because of their metabolism.

    Nova, hmm have heard of this. again, a very complex thing, because it is true that some may eat out of stress, boredom and psychological reasons like that. Hormones also play havoc, but those who are motivated to lose weight, manage it. I think self esteem is important here, which Shefaly mentions.

    rags, well, stats are usually taken on the basis of samples and they have their limitations. However stats for weight generally are more accurate than other types of surveys as people cannot lie as their weights are actually measured. And that is a good point you made about the sports activities. Even in India I find that more boys are into sports as compared to girls. Its a cultural issue.

    25BAR, thanks. There are stats and stats, and we need to look at those from reliable sources.

    Vishesh, ofcourse thats so. We have a lot of poor people who do manual labour. Even in road building for example we have our men and women breaking rocks with their hands! They carry huge loads, on construction sites, stations etc. And about you being overweight, thats difficult to imagine, from your pictures! 🙂

  19. September 11, 2009 5:45 pm


  20. September 11, 2009 5:58 pm

    No doubt the statistics are very interesting and must be credible.
    In India,may be except in metro cities,high weight is a sigh of prosperity.Weight also depends on the kind of food habits,which again are different in South and North.
    The statistics of India,if worked on basis of different states just may throw up a surprise analysis…….may be.

  21. September 11, 2009 8:19 pm

    This is so interesting.. Sedentary lifestyles certainly seem to be the major difference when it comes to rural and urban women in India.

    It was a fascinating read!

  22. September 11, 2009 9:00 pm

    I would really like to see the difference between obesity/over-weight rates among vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indians. From personal experience, I think there will be a substantial difference.

    I also have a few questions regarding the increasingly held belief that Indians/Asians are more predisposed to obesity due to a history of famines. Certainly the data from Malaysia, Japan and Thailand, as compared to the data from the US and UK contradicts this. I really dont see how storing fat can save you from drought. It is also not very clear to me that a pan Indian drought was common enough occurence to affect all Indians. Also in India, the lower castes were much more exposed to the results of droughts than the upper castes, so one would also expect to see a clear caste distinction if that hypothesis is true.

    • September 12, 2009 12:02 am

      Vikram, What difference do you expect in obesity/over weight rates between vegetarians and non-vegetarians? As far as I know there was not much differences in studies.

      • September 12, 2009 7:43 am

        Just that vegetarians are less likely to be obese, but I guess thats not the case.

        • rags permalink
          September 12, 2009 3:36 pm

          Non- vegetarians maybe a bit on the overweight side but why obese? I think other factors like genetics and impulse control play a greater role in obesity.

          • September 12, 2009 6:14 pm

            Your body weight depends on the number of calories you eat, number of calories you burn out and your genes Eating more calories than that is spend especially when you have a genetic predisposition to obesity leads to accumulation of calories in the form of fat. Veg or non Veg food if it contains lot of calories and if eaten in large quantities with a sedentary life style will cause obesity

  23. September 11, 2009 10:50 pm

    I will quote what my sister tells me – In France, it is very important for women to be stylish and slim- they do feel a social pressure for that, and many do smoke to stay slim and look sexy. French women do have a great waist-to-hip ratio (probably genetically, rather than from workouts), they eat less and eat healthy food, they walk a lot, and many take the help of coffee and cigarettes to stay slim!

    • rags permalink
      September 12, 2009 3:32 pm

      Smoke and stay slim… That’s going to kill you anyway, these people should not be considered healthy just because they fall in the corrrect weight range.. I think being overweight has lesser negative effects than smoking to stay slim.

      • vasudev permalink
        September 12, 2009 7:09 pm

        a swine cud kill u faster!

      • vasudev permalink
        September 12, 2009 9:27 pm

        rags..smoking can keep u healthy actually, because the new killer diseases that affecct the defenseless. pure virgin lungs could have got killed faster in a smoke infested, corrupted and polluted lung. now that is my theory. disprove that?

        by that theory an average smoker has a chance to live longer than a non-smoker!

        • vasudev permalink
          September 12, 2009 9:28 pm


        • rags permalink
          September 13, 2009 11:09 am

          Jokes apart, smoking affects not only your lungs, it affects your entire system, accelerates the ageing process and is inflammatory for the entire body besides irritating non-smokers like me.

  24. September 11, 2009 10:50 pm

    Interesting observation Nita… as you have said it has lot to do with the lifestyle…

  25. September 12, 2009 3:32 pm

    a little depressing 😉

  26. vasudev permalink
    September 12, 2009 7:10 pm

    beyond 40 it is difficult to shed weight. better not to gorge till 40!

  27. September 12, 2009 11:18 pm

    🙂 that was indeed interesting….

    I don’t know why am i losing weight despite eating loads of food..

    • September 13, 2009 6:24 am

      Nimmy, check to see your blood sugar is not high and you do not have an excess of thyroid hormones in your blood

      • Nimmy permalink
        September 18, 2009 4:13 pm

        OOOps,pls don’t make me tensed Doctor 😦 Will follow your advice

  28. September 13, 2009 3:06 am

    Hi i read your post its very nice and wonderful…
    so i add u in my bolg list and can u add me in your blog list…

  29. Bobby permalink
    September 15, 2009 12:16 am

    The disparity because of genders boils down to a simple observation. Men are very open to exercise in public (go to a gym, for a run, etc.) where as women for most part have reservations to do so. Either because they are shy to do so amongst strangers or the lack of time since they tend to do housework.

    In the US men and women equally assign time in their daily lives for health as in exercising. The statistics however do not do justice to this observation since a healthy person who is muscular tends to be classified as obese because of the baseline definition of the term obese. Say an athlete who plays contact sports.

    I am considered obese by definition since I am 6’1″ and weigh 195 pounds (88.5 Kgs). Yet I am considered healthy because I am more muscular than an average guy of that height. Women undergo several physiological over time and hence they have trouble maintaining their weight and in India there are not enough who actually pay attention to their bodies and hence the obesity statistics will increase.

  30. October 4, 2009 5:56 pm

    I don’t know about the world at large, but I do know one thing that in my home I have always weighed more than twice compared to my better half! The best ratio that I could ever attain was when I had typhoid and after that I was just a shade under 2 times her weight!

    And as Booby said, I may be overweight by medical stanadrds but I do not think that I am unhealthy, just as my wife may be a little underweight but she is too is extremely healthy.

    I believe that as long as a person is healthy and does not fall ill tooe asily, what are a few additional kilos on the body?

  31. brilliantmindbrokenbody permalink
    October 6, 2009 4:02 am

    I didn’t see anyone mention this, but you know how the BMI system was created, right?

    In the 1800s, a mathematician by the name of Adolphe Quetlet. He was looking at statistical modelling of people – men, specifically. He created an equation that would give him the average weight of a man – the equation we now use for getting BMI. The equation’s only real use is predicting what average weight for a certain height will be.

    That is, BMI was created as a hack to explain the variation in weight. That’s it. It wasn’t created to say what is healthy, only what is ‘average’.

    It was created using only men’s weights. It was intended to describe society as a whole, not the health of individuals.

    Which is to say, BMI is a completely useless measure. It tells the triathelete that they weigh too much, and the couch potato with slender bones (and thus a lot more fat at the same weight) that they are fine.

    Measuring the body fat percentage or the waist size both predict actual need for change in lifestyle far better.

    …for what it’s worth, that is. UCLA’s medical school did a study on studies of weight loss, and they said that there were no conclusive benefits from attempting to lose weight, but there were significant potential harms.


  32. October 6, 2009 5:43 pm

    losing weight is just plain hard work

  33. Abdullah K. permalink
    November 2, 2009 3:44 pm

    “But why are more Swedish, German, Italian and French women slimmer than their American or British counterparts? Could they be more weight conscious?”

    It could be because Italians and French lead more active lifestyles and have access to healthier foods than Americans. The ‘public transport and walking’ culture of Europe and eating with the family goes a long way here.

    Americans, on the other hand are the most weight (and health) conscious people I have ever known. They diet the most and in a way of balancing it, also lead the most fattening lifestyles and eating habits. A paradox of sorts.

    Charakan – “In Indians many experts believe that BMI more than 23 should be considered as over weight.”

    BMI is hardly the all-in-all parameter of overweight or obesity, especially for those who are into sports and athletics (~ heavier muscle mass). I have a BMI of 24.8 and have hardly any body fat. So would take make me overweight and unhealthy.

    @ Asif – “I have seen people celebrating extra kilos on their body ( yes, true) I am 5.8 and weigh 70Kg, Yet People from My village (Village People Only) Ask me to Gain Some Weight.”

    I think it is because Indian men often tend to be very skinny. Unless one has the height to make up for it (like Russians), skinny can act against you, as people consider skinny men as in-virile, weak and puny.

    @ Vikram – “Just that vegetarians are less likely to be obese, but I guess thats not the case.”

    I think vegetarians would be more likely to be obese. Vegetarian foods need more fatty products and spices (ghee, oil, etc.) to cover their blandness and taste good. Meats taste good even if they are smokes, roasted or grilled (which keep them protein rich, with minimum fat).

  34. November 13, 2009 7:58 am

    Very interesting. As an American woman, thanks Egyptian women for making me feel less chunky. 🙂
    @ brilliantmindbrokenbody, glad you pointed out the BMI information.

    Regarding the French, I read somewhere they were getting fatter at a faster rate and will catch up to the US, but I can’t find a link to that information, so maybe it’s not true.

    I like the simple idea that waist should be 1/2 of height or less.

    Thanks for posting.

  35. May 26, 2010 11:21 am

    hiiiiii india is bettert than pother countries

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