American Men Catching Up to Women in Weight Worries; Both Should Worry More

One gender gap, at least, is narrowing: American men are starting to worry about the size of their butts.

One gender gap, at least, is narrowing: American men are starting to worry about the size of their butts.

Gallup (“In U.S., Gender Gap in Personal Weight Worries Narrows“):

Although women (55%) are still significantly more likely than men (41%) to worry at least some of the time about their weight, this gender gap has narrowed, as men are much more likely now than in 1990 to worry about their weight. At that time, 21% of men and 46% of women worried at least some of the time about their weight.

Given the small sample size, which yields a margin of error of + or – 6 percent, it’s quite possible that this variation is sheer noise. My suspicion is further compounded by the fact that the female number deviates from the trend, going down for the first time since the question was first polled 22 years ago. The men’s number is more consistent but is still fluctuating within sampling error; the 35 figure from the previous survey actually appears to be something of an outlier.

Regardless, the analysis is somewhat interesting.

Men (40%) and women (42%) are about equally likely to describe themselves as “very” or “somewhat” overweight, which is on par with the percentages of Americans saying they were at least somewhat overweight over the past decade. The majority of Americans say their weight is “about right,” as they have in most of the past 20 years.

Because men and women in the U.S. are about equally as likely to say they are above a normal weight, the higher number of women who worry about their weight is likely the result of societal norms or social pressures about weight and body image that are different for men than for women, or perhaps affect men and women differently.

The more than two in five Americans who personally describe themselves as being overweight in Gallup’s July 9-12 Consumption Habits poll is well below the percentage who are overweight according to BMI calculations.

So, really, the story isn’t so much the gender gap but the reality gap. That is, Americans of both sexes should be much more worried about their weight. (Yes, there are reasons to be skeptical of BMI as the baseline; regardless, there’s no disputing that we’re a nation of fatasses.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CDC says 34.4% overweight (and not obese), 33.9% obese, so yeah that so many fewer are worried or aware is pretty bad.

    BMI can fail for “very fit” individuals, but it is the best you can do for people you can’t examine closely … and “too many very fit individuals” is not really our current problem.

    Probably like the overweight statistics themselves, more people discount BMI than should really do so. I mean, if you know your time for running a mile, then we can talk. If you don’t know your time, you should probably just use BMI.

  2. george says:

    @john personna:

    I agree that too many fit people isn’t the problem 🙂

    However, for an individual, BMI can be very wrong, as you say. A much better measure for an individual is the hip to waist ratio, as quite a few studies have shown. That’s the one my family doctor has started using, and I’d guess the only reason it really hasn’t caught on for society as a whole is that its a bit harder to measure (ie is someone sucking in their stomach), and we’re not as used to measuring hip and waist as standing on a scale.

    But just the eyeball test shows how many people are overweight.

  3. @george:

    Whenever I go to Kaiser, they weigh me, and then ask their standard questions:

    – how many times a week do you exercise
    – how long

    Probably those put BMI in perspective for them. If someone says BMI is wrong for them, and they tell us they lift 5 times a week, we might say “OK, fine.” If they say they do something less strenuous once a week, then maybe get back to BMI. I’d guess the hip to waist ratio is similar.

    Related: Walking Speed Predicts Life Expectancy of Older Adults

    (I’m at the low end of BMI myself, good blood pressure)

  4. Franklin says:

    Can’t we just take the scanners from airports and use them to look at body fat in your doctor’s office? Two birds, one stone.

  5. Trumwill says:

    In my experience, being worried about your weight is actually counterproductive.

  6. come here says:

    The InfoPath 2007, which is a program for gathering information, lets you create and organize electronic forms}

  7. slimslowslider says:

    that graph looks like a boner

  8. george says:

    @john personna:

    Actually, for an individual it probably only takes looking in the mirror to know if that BMI is muscle or fat. I’ve read the average BMI in the NHL is over 30, and is around 27 in the NBA. I suspect most people with BMI’s in those rangers don’t see what those professional athletes see in the mirror …(my BMI is in the NBA range, unfortunately my mirror doesn’t agree that I look like an NBA player, though my doctor tells me my weight is fine for my age and build, and my blood pressure is good).

    And for condition, I’ve been told to just to put 40 pounds in a backpack, and walk at a normal pace up ten flights of stairs. If you can do it without breathing hard, you’re in reasonable shape. If you can’t, you need to work at it. I’ve tried it a few times, and I’m always puffing a bit at the top, though getting better. My twenty year old nephew did it with me once, and kept up a lively chatter all the way – I console myself that he’ll be puffing a bit doing that when he’s my age too.

  9. @george:

    I kind of get what you’re saying, but on the other hand, the people in James’ study, the ones who are fat and not worried, might be looking in the mirror and saying “hey, I’m big boned.”

    The pack thing is interesting, of course “breathing hard” is just heading toward max-CO2, a good thing. Recovery time might be a better test. How long does it take to stop breathing deeply.

    Other than that, the fixed 40 pound rule should probably be a percent body weight thing. it would be pushing 30% for me.

  10. @Trumwill:

    It’s much better to concentrate on being healthy and strong … but I’m not sure that is where the people “not worrying” are really headed.

  11. @this: I mean “VO2 max”

  12. george says:

    @john personna:

    I think the idea of normal pace walk is supposed to take recovery time into account, though that’s just a guess, I’m not an expert in conditioning. My GP actually suggested it (I’m in good health and work out regularly, it was just a throwaway suggestion from him when I asked for an easy way to check my condition), and yeah, the 40 pounds is what he suggested for me (about 25% of my body weight). What you say about recovery time makes sense though, my doctor’s told me that the way to measure heart health is how fast your heart rate comes down. Next time I’ll time the recovery of wind and heart beat – thanks for the suggestion.

    I suppose if I was really interested I could do the VO2 max tests, body fat tests and the like (the university physical activities department will do them for a fee – that kind of test for healthy people isn’t covered by Canadian health care, nor I suppose, should it be). But for the most part I think I’ve got a reasonable idea from my stair test, waist to hip ratio (close but not quite at the suggested .9), and just from working out.

    You could be right about people making excuses (big boned etc) – what’s the saying? Men see less fat than they have when they look in the mirror, women see more than they have. Which I suppose is the point of things like waist-hip ratio, or the treadmill stress test and the like.

  13. john personna says:

    I figure I’m at the age where people start kicking off because they exercise too hard, so I take it “easy.” I’ll go for mountain bike loops or short runs, but look for the “feels good” zone.

    Have fun with it.