When it comes to weight loss, men seem to have an advantage over women. A 2018 study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism followed 2,224 overweight adults on low-calorie diets for eight weeks and found men lost 16% more weight than women. In addition to gender differences in weight loss, the researchers found men experienced larger differences in fat mass and heart rate; women had bigger reductions in hip circumference.
HOW DOES GENDER PLAY A ROLE IN WEIGHT LOSS?
“Men have more lean body mass, which fires up their metabolism,” says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, a professor of nutrition at New York University. “A higher metabolism means you burn more calories.”
Unlike women, whose weight tends to be distributed throughout their bodies, men have more fat in their bellies; losing that fat, called visceral fat, also increases their metabolic rates, allowing them to burn more calories at rest. Losing subcutaneous fat in the hips, thighs and buttocks — where women tend to hold onto weight — has no impact on metabolic rates.
DOES GENDER PLAY A ROLE IN WEIGHT MAINTENANCE?
In addition to showing that men lose weight faster than women, research published in the American Journal of Men’s Health also found gender differences in weight maintenance. The 2017 study followed 419 participants who had lost at least 10% of their body weight in the previous year. After two years, women regained more than 24% of their original weight, compared to 16% for men.
Although the data showed that men consumed more calories than women, researcher Melissa Crane, PhD, an assistant professor at Rush University, notes, “[This] was largely due to greater caloric needs in men — they are taller and weigh more; once we adjusted for body weight, most of the difference went away.”
Men managed to maintain their weight loss despite purchasing foods from convenience stores more often and taking a DIY approach to dieting (compared to women who were more apt to enroll in structured weight-loss programs).
DO THE EFFECTS OF WEIGHT LOSS DIFFER BY GENDER?
Regardless of who fits into a smaller size faster, the impact of weight loss is similar: In the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism study, both men and women experienced decreases in their blood glucose levels and no longer had pre-diabetes; reductions in body mass index are also associated with reduced risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and stroke.
However, in the same study, women who followed the low-calorie diet reduced their HDL “good” cholesterol and lost bone mineral density and lean body mass. In other words, women had weaker bones and less muscle than men after losing weight.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Crane believes it’s important to continue researching gender differences in weight loss and maintenance because, despite a high prevalence of being overweight or obese in both genders, most of the current research focuses on women.
Instead of getting hung up on who loses weight faster, Young suggests steering clear of comparisons altogether, noting, “If women lose one pound a week and men lose two pounds a week, the scale is still moving in the right direction. Focus on your progress and don’t give up.”