Men’s health disadvantaged because of their food-related behaviou

Safe Food.
Safe Food.

Men’s food behaviour puts them at a disadvantage health-wise compared with women.

That’s the message from safefood as they launch a new report[i] on men’s food behaviour across the island of Ireland and the need to help change how men interact with food.

The report highlights that men are generally less engaged with food both in terms of food hygiene and healthy eating. It also finds men have less healthy diets, eat more fat and salt, less fruit and vegetables, and tend to see food as fuel.

It shows men have a greater preference for larger portions of food, are less likely to be aware of healthy eating guidelines and are less likely to regard healthy eating as an important factor influencing their long-term health.

The report highlights that although more men than women are overweight or obese in Ireland[ii], they are less likely to attempt to lose weight or to monitor their diet. At present, 69% of men in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese, compared with 57% of women.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition, safefood said “Despite increases in life expectancy in both genders over the past number of decades, men are at higher risk from major chronic diseases such as heart disease and many cancers, mainly due to modifiable behavioural factors such as poor diet, high consumption of alcohol and smoking. Our food environment and societal attitudes around masculinity play a role in influencing men’s food behaviour. When it comes to food skills such as planning, purchasing, shopping, cooking and cleaning, women are more likely to be skilled in this area and still do most of this work. While there is an abundance of data on men and women’s food intake and dietary patterns, few studies have exclusively examined men’s attitudes and behaviours in relation to food and health. This report identifies how men view themselves and their relationship with food and is of importance for men’s health given the levels of overweight and obesity.”

Key findings from the report include;

· Men have a preference for larger portions.

· Their food choices are more likely to be dictated by taste, habit and convenience, whereas concerns about healthy eating are more common among women.

· Men’s knowledge and awareness of healthy eating guidelines and the connection of healthy food to good health.

· Food is viewed as fuel and men tend to gauge what they need to eat against the energy they need to expend.

· Although more men than women are overweight or obese, men are less likely to attempt to lose weight or to monitor their diet.

·Socially-reinforced gender roles, sports participation, reliance on ‘convenience foods’ and a complacency about body weight issues influence men’s food behaviour.

· The media portrayal of men’s relationship with food tends to be negative and frames weight loss as solely a women’s issue.

· Men’s role with food tends to be more about ‘occasion’ cooking rather than day-to-day activity.

“Everyone has a role to play in influencing and enabling young boys and men to develop adequate food skills and have a healthy diet”, added Dr Aileen McGloin, Scientific Support Manager with safefood. “Some men are the main cook at home and have excellent food skills. However this report illustrates that the balance still tips towards women when it comes to food skills and cooking. Equally, men are less likely to learn how to cook whether at home or in school - in fact in the education sector, boys are 9 times less likely to take up Home Economics while the subject is less likely to be offered in boys’ schools. This makes it harder for men to have a healthy approach to eating and diet, thereby resulting in poorer health outcomes. Some changes need to be made at policy level, but it is up to every member of society to change our attitudes to ensure that men are not left vulnerable in this regard.” Dr McGloin continued.