|When the pot belly syndrome is no longer comical|
Guardian Lifestyles Reporter
Published: Jun 19, 2012
Potbellies, beer bellies, the Santa Claus gut — whatever you call it, the extra weight many men proudly carry in their abdominal area while a common and even comical sight, is an increasingly worrying symbol of poor health. It’s a problem health professionals say men should be more concerned about and not just laugh off. It seems like no big deal to carry around a few extra pound, but over time, the chance of lasting health problems increases significantly.
Health professionals say it is necessary to get men to be more proactive about their health maintenance as they see an increase of men suffering from lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer, heart disease and strokes at even younger ages. They say men need to be more proactive, rather than reactive.
For Darvin Toussaint, 35, who sports the typical Bahamian male abdominal girth, said being healthy has not been the easiest feat and is still an ongoing challenge, for the five-foot, six-inch office worker who has carried around a few extra pounds around his mid-section for a while now, despite his efforts to live a healthier lifestyle.
Unlike most men, the 200-plus pound Toussaint said he is well aware of the health risks for men in his physical condition and is concerned.
“I know I’m overweight and I am aware of the health risks out there for me. As a result I have been doing what I can to keep myself in check. As a health-conscious person I try to eat as well as I can and exercise regularly. I may not be getting results as readily as I want, but I think it’s important to be consistent,” he said.
“I think being consistent and caring enough about our health that we actually do something about it ourselves is a challenge men have. Seeing a doctor on our own is another challenge, but I think if more men learnt to focus on their health and not so much taking care of our families alone we would be in better health. It’s not easy but we need to still try. Many of us need to shake off our issues with masculinity and do what is best for our health.”
Men today are at higher risk
Men are at higher risks today more than ever of developing lifestyles diseases than they were in years before, according to Shandera Smith, a nutritionist at the Department of Public Health. She said their preference for highly seasoned and fatty foods, combined with a lack of physical activity, nutrient deficient diets and an adverse fear of hospitals and physicians have resulted in a generation of men who are grossly unhealthy and are too lazy or afraid to do anything about it.
“It’s common enough to see men today with big stomachs due to having lots of extra weight around their abdomen. We always talk about the women or children and obesity but what about men? They have similar, if not more risk factors due to their extra baggage, but most of them don’t care, or don’t do enough to improve their health,” she said.
Smith said that chronic diseases are on the rise across the board and that the scariest thing is that they are starting to appear in men in their 20s and 30s. She said it’s no longer about being older and expecting the stomach fat or illnesses to happen in their 40s or 50s.
“With the way people are living today lots of food, bad diets and no exercise many [men] are starting to see their health deteriorate much earlier.”
She said while it is great to be positive about one’s body image she encourages men not to be blind to the chronic conditions they are setting themselves up for by not paying enough attention to their expanding girths.
The nutritionist said that more men need to take charge of their health and not just check on themselves when there is a problem. She said they should be more responsible and make good health choices.
“Many men have a family history of a certain disease and rather than just take care of themselves and avoid getting it, they assume it’s inevitable and do nothing. Their genes may draw the gun but it’s their lifestyle choices that trigger the illnesses. Men don’t have to suffer, make their families worry and die from these everyday illnesses.”
Check your waistline
Smith said men should exercise and eat well regularly to ensure that their waistline is no more than 40 inches around, no matter their height. A waist circumference larger than 40 inches she said increases the man’s risk of developing lifestyle diseases. She said men should also keep a close eye on their body mass index (BMI).
The nutritionist said that not only men with obvious weight issues need to be concerned. She said men who are of average weight are just as much at risk for developing chronic illnesses.
“No matter your size or how well your genes make up for your bad habits, staying in shape by working out and eating well is essential. You may look good, but if you aren't doing your job it doesn't matter how you look. A heart attack, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and even cancer can happen to you due to poor choices. Slimmer men think they can get away, but they can't and in a way it may be more alarming since they often don't show sign of poor health like others do. But they have to realize that they are just as much at risk if not more so if they are small and therefore they have to stay on top of their health. Diseases don't discriminate,” she said.
Lathera Lotmore, another nutritionist at the Department of Public Health, advises men as they seek to get healthy to decrease their salt, fat and sugar intake, and to eat on time and in moderation. She said it is not healthy to miss meals or to overindulge recklessly. She said there should always be control in one’s habits because choices today will affect your health tomorrow.
“The truth is that lots of men don’t eat healthily. They miss out on meals, eat badly when they do and overindulge without thinking about the consequences. We would want to see men eating lots more fruit and vegetables, drinking water and cutting back on other things like fats, sugars and salty foods. Our men can be healthy if they take steps to improve their diets.”
And Lotmore said making time for exercise is crucial. For beginners that means walking, running or doing cardio-focused routine for at least three days a week for 30 minutes. Once they are used to the exercise, she said they can then venture to do their exercise one hour for five days a week. She said getting in some exercise weekly can help in improving health and slowing down the development of illness over time.
The nutritionist said men should also be wary about their alcohol intake as it adds significantly to weight gain since alcohol has lots of calories. She said the accepted intake of alcohol is two servings per day for men and one serving for women. A serving can constitute one 12-ounce beer, four to six ounces of wine and one-and-a-half ounces of hard liquor like brandy or vodka.
She said it is not only bad dietary habits that are the cause of men’s poor health, and that stress and lack of sleep are equally responsible for damaging health.
“He can be doing everything right, exercise, eating etc., but if other aspects of his life aren’t together that could still lead to poor health or even death,” said Lotmore. “Men need to get at least seven to eight hours of continuous sleep a night and learn how to destress themselves. Stress can elevate blood pressure and other things just in the same ways having extra fat can. So men need to be in good health physically as well as mentally.”
The nutritionist also hopes men take it upon themselves to visit their personal physician for their yearly checkups and take whatever advice they are given seriously. She said too many men don’t follow instructions and depend on others to be mindful of their health for them.
Men’s health awareness week is celebrated June 11-17 globally to heighten the awareness about preventable health problems, and to encourage the early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.