Men try to get thin: Weight-loss programs shift from women
Sunday, May 27, 2007
NEW YORK -- Joey Fatone is the "fat one" no more.
Two weeks before committing to "Dancing With the Stars," Fatone joined NutriSystem, a weight-loss program that delivers meals to a customer's door.
That and a rigorous five-hour, six-day-a-week dance schedule helped him shed 23 pounds in two months, he said.
"After 'N Sync, I wasn't very active and had reached 235 pounds," Fatone said in a phone interview. "I've gone from a size 38 to a size 34. I haven't been a 34 since I don't know when."
NutriSystem has now adopted him as a spokesman, with an emphasis on "man." While the weight-loss industry has focused more on women in the past, some programs like Weight Watchers and NutriSystem are marketing new programs to men.
NutriSystem debuted its Silver program for older men about a year ago and continues to promote it. After an ad campaign, 35 percent of the company's 363,000 new clients in the first quarter of 2007 were men, up from 13 percent from the same time last year, said to CEO Mike Hagan.
Weightwatchers.com launched a Web site devoted to men in March, and more men are signing up said senior vice president Alexandra Aleskovsky, although she could not provide numbers.
Men could certainly use a helping hand in shedding some extra pounds: According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 71 percent of men in the United States are overweight or obese, reporting a body-mass index of 25 or more in the years 2001 to 2004. That's compared with about 61 percent of women in the United States who are overweight.
"If the trend continues, by 2040, every American should be overweight," warned Dr. Allen Rader, a board member with the Denver-based American Society of Bariatric Physicians.
The Nielsen Co.'s Health and Wellness Survey, which polled 64,000 households in September 2006, found that most men read ingredient labels carefully and are trying to limit the amount of fat and cholesterol in their diet. Nearly 28 percent exercise more than three times a week, while nearly 24 percent exercise two to three times a week. Nearly 14 percent reported they never exercise
And yet, most men, 73 percent, said they were not participating in a weight-loss program at all, while a "diet of their own design" ranked second, at 16 percent. According to the survey, a little more than 1 percent were on Weight Watchers, The South Beach Diet or Slim Fast, while Atkins took nearly 2 percent.
"Weight on the typical man's radar screen is barely a blip," said Karen Miller-Kovach, a dietitian whose title at Weight Watchers is chief scientific officer. She is the author of the recent Weight Watchers book "She Loses, He Loses," about men and women and their differing attitudes about diets and weight.
"Men are slow to come to the plate of weight loss," she said. "But generally, when they do decide to lose weight, they tend to be more successful than women, not only in terms of the speed but keeping the weight off. When it comes to weight loss, women fight battles. Men declare war."
Women and men do have different weight loss challenges, said Dr. Mary Vernon, president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians.
"Women, as the childbearing group, have lots of metabolic, inherited strategies that prevent them from losing weight rapidly. Guys generally lose fat more easily and gain more muscle easily than women," she said.
But that doesn't mean the prescription is necessarily very different, even if the marketing is.
While the men's Weight Watchers plan and food are the same as the women's, the new Weight Watchers men's site allows guys to log on and track their points, connect with other men and read "guy-friendly" articles about light beer, how to grocery shop and how to navigate the concession stand at football games.
The same is true for NutriSystem. "Our program resonates with men because it's something they can do in their own home, eat real 'guy' food," Hagan said. "They don't have to prepare anything, don't have to shop at the grocery store. It's idiot proof."
Unsurprisingly, companies have also enlisted sports figures. NutriSystem recruited NFL quarterback Dan Marino and coach Don Shula. Weight Watchers signed up baseball's Ron Darling.
"I'm as vain as anyone else," said Darling, who pitched the Mets to a World Series win in 1986 and, at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds at the top of his game, once graced the cover of GQ in a shot taken by Richard Avedon.
But at last year's 20-year Mets reunion, Darling noticed his uniform was a bit snug.
He now counts points, logs them into the Weight Watchers' Web site, and has gone from 260 to 248 pounds since last March.
Of course, losing weight is no easy feat, and no marketing magic alone can't safely whisk unwanted weight away.
"I was digging my own grave with a fork," said Leonard Poole Jr., a 65-year-old retired firefighter from Miami who, after a life of being described as "stout," tried every diet program imaginable
He joined NutriSystem in March 2006 and says he has lost 63 pounds.
"The truth is, it doesn't matter what weight loss plan you're on," he said. "You've got to get your mind right for it to work. That's half the battle."