Sadly not much if you’re a young man aged 18-25.
This is a key transitional phase in life with numerous personal, social and environmental changes occurring – moving away from home and into shared accommodation, starting tertiary studies, finding employment.
These changes can often be associated with weight gain, poor dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles, as a young man’s lunch rarely includes a light salad and they’re not fond of being yelled at by gym instructors.
To put this into context, recent statistics show that about 42per cent of young men are overweight or obese, which is significantly higher than for females of the same age.
Around 97 per cent don’t consume the recommended intakes of fruit and vegetables, and half fail to achieve recommended levels of physical activity. In addition, 50per cent of young men report that coping with stress is their biggest issue, while a quarter have experienced a diagnosed mental health disorder in the past year.
It’s not surprising that young men are reluctant to seek help when all that’s available are one-size-fits-all health programs that don’t take into account their needs and preferences. Young women are three times more likely to be targeted for intervention for a weight problem.
Recently a friend of mine attended a weight-loss program and was the only male participating. He dropped out after one of the sessions provided a pamphlet on “the best tips to get a bikini body for summer”.
It is important to tailor a program specifically for young men to better cater to their needs and overcome participation barriers, and this is exactly what our research team at the University of Newcastle plans to do.
Results from our initial focus groups were published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. Appearance and mental-health benefits were among the stated motivators – “to look good and attract women” and “feel better like endorphins and all that razzmatazz”.
Some of the barriers included social influences such as “when we’re eating in a group it’s not like ‘Hey, come over, let’s all have a salad together’,” and negative stigma associated with gym culture like “I just hate the idea of people in Spandex yelling at me”.
We are now looking for 300 young men (aged 18-25) to fill out an online survey. Their responses will inform development of a new program in early 2016, focusing on healthy eating, physical activity and stress reduction. The survey looks to find exactly what young men would like, what they don’t want and how they would like to take part.
The program will hopefully be more appealing and engaging, being gender specific and designed to fit their individual needs and preferences. Ultimately it has the potential to provide men with healthy behaviours as they progress through adulthood, preventing the onset of serious chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The survey is now live at surveymonkey.com/r/youngmensurvey. It takes approximately 15-25 minutes and participants will go into a prize draw to win an iPad mini or one of five Woolworths wish vouchers.
Lee Ashton is a PhD candidate with the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s cardiovascular research program.