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BMC Public Health. 2008 Sep 14;8:311. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-8-311.

"Obesity" and "Clinical Obesity" Men's understandings of obesity and its relation to the risk of diabetes: a qualitative study.

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  • 1Institute of Health and Society, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.



The 2007 Wanless report highlights the ever increasing problem of obesity and the consequent health problems. Obesity is a significant cause of diabetes. An increasing evidence base suggests that in terms of reducing diabetes and CVD risk, it is better to be "fit and fat" than unfit and of normal weight. There has been very little previous research into the understandings that men in the general population hold about the issues of weight, exercise and health; we therefore undertook this study in order to inform the process of health promotion and diabetes prevention in this group.


A qualitative study in North East England General Practice using a purposive sample of men aged 25 and 45 years (selection process designed to include 'normal', 'overweight' and 'obese' men). One to one audio-recorded semi structured interviews focused on: overweight and obesity, diet, physical activity and diabetes. Transcripts were initially analysed using framework analysis. Emerging themes interlinked.


The men in this study (n = 17) understand the word obesity differently from the clinical definition; "obesity" was used as a description of those with fat in a central distribution, and understandings of the term commonly take into account fitness as well as weight. Men in their late 30s and early 40s described becoming more aware of health issues. Knowledge of what constitutes a 'healthy lifestyle' was generally good, but men described difficulty acting upon this knowledge for various reasons e.g. increasing responsibilities at home and at work. Knowledge of diabetes and the link between obesity and diabetes was poor.


Men in this study had a complex understanding of the interlinked importance of weight and fitness in relation to health. Obesity is understood as a description of people with centrally distributed fat, in association with low fitness levels. There is a need to increase understanding of the causes and consequences of diabetes. Discussion of increased health awareness by men round the age of 40 may indicate a window of opportunity to intervene at this time.

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