01.07.2011 Men play sport and women cook
Gender differences and health. Men do more sport and feel mentally healthier than women. But they display shortcomings in their eating habits and suffer more often from diet-related illnesses. These conclusions are based on current data obtained from the diet and physical activity monitoring system MOSEB.
The data reveal a number of gender differences in nutritional and physical activity behaviour, for instance in relation to certain diseases of dietary origin. According to a study conducted in the city of Geneva covering the period from 1993 to 2007, men suffer more frequently from high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels than women. In the peak year 2005, the prevalence of high cholesterol was 38% in men and 33% in women. The equivalent value in 2007 was 27% in men and 21% in women. The prevalence of high blood pressure also felt in both men and women over the 15-year study period. Here, too, the values for men are higher than those for women, although the difference declined somewhat in 2006 and 2007 (men: 30%, women: 26%). A similar picture is found for diabetes treatment: with a prevalence of 3.5%, men are more likely to suffer from insulin deficiency than women (1.5%; 2007).
Don’t cook much, but enjoy sports
The data do not allow elucidation of the factors responsible for men’s poorer health nor the extent to which these factors are responsible. It is just clear that men devote less attention and time to their diet than women do. Shopping for food and preparing meals is an important aspect of a healthy food culture and is not only associated with diet but is also a starting point for bringing about changes in eating habits. The pilot study of the National Dietary Survey (2009) showed that over 90% of women interviewed did their own cooking «frequently» or «almost always», while only 50% of men did so. 16% of men stated that they have never ever cooked. Gender differences regarding health awareness also exist in relation to grocery shopping, with only 20% of men reading the label information on nutritional value, compared with 35% of women.
The findings for sport present a different picture. Clear gender differences favouring boys are already evident in childhood. Of the approximately 700,000 children and young people who attended a «Youth + Sport» (J+S) course in 2008, about 415,000 were boys and about 285,000 girls. (J+S is the Confederation’s principal sports promotion programme for 10-20 year olds.) This distinction continues into adulthood. According to 2007 figures provided by the Swiss Observatory for Sport, membership of sports clubs is considerably higher among men than among women. Thus, 30% of 35–44 year old men are members of a sport club, compared with only 17% of women in the same age group. Fitness centres, on the other hand, are more or less equally popular among both genders at 15% for men and 16% for women. When considering these figures, however, it should not be forgotten that the large majority of people who do sport in Switzerland – for instance, jogging, swimming or cycling – do so outside of formal organisational structures.
Men tend to suffer less from mental pressures
Given men’s higher level of sporting activity, it is not surprising that they enjoy better mental health than women. According to the 2007 Swiss Health Survey (SGB), there is a connection between physical activity and mental stress. The Survey shows that in all age groups the proportion of those suffering from severe to moderate mental stress is lower in men than in women. The differences are greatest in the youngest and oldest age groups, even though mental pressures decline in the course of a lifetime (except in women aged over 75, who have a relatively high value). The Swiss Health Survey also shows that women tend to be slightly less optimistic than men. In particular, the proportion of only slightly to moderately optimistic interviewees is higher among women than men (about 30% as compared with about 24%).
The MOSEB diet and physical activity monitoring system is a systematic and constantly growing collection of comparable, representative data on certain diet and physical activity indicators in Switzerland. Wherever possible it draws on established data sources. MOSEB collects data on the following six topics: health literacy, eating habits, physical activity, bodyweight, state of health, general conditions and service provision.
Valerie Bourdin, Nutrition and Physical Activity Section, firstname.lastname@example.org