Apparently, women find it more difficult to follow a diet than men.
New research, which compared the brain activity of men and women to see if biological differences between the sexes could influence our ability to resist hunger, has suggested that men are programmed to suppress their cravings for food more effectively than women.
All this was ascertained via a study of 23 healthy volunteers fasting for 17 hours, after which they were presented with a plate of their favourite foods. They were then asked to suppress their cravings through ‘cognitive inhibition' self-control, while activity in their brains was measured using a Positron-emission tomography scanner, which monitors how the brain uses glucose.
When men tried to suppress their hunger, the parts of their brains dealing with the desire to eat were far less active than before. However, for the women, there was no significant change in brain patterns. This led Dr Gene-Jack Wang, who carried out the study at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, to conclude that ‘lower cognitive control of brain responses to food stimulation in women, compared to men, may contribute to gender differences in the prevalence rates of obesity and other eating disorders.'
He believes this could be down to evolution honing females to absorb as many calories as possible in readiness for pregnancy and lactation.
So far so plausible, though I'd need to see a slightly larger sample than the 13 women and 10 men studied, before I accepted Dr Wang's conclusions as fact. But it is undoubtedly useful ongoing research, given that 24.8 per cent of women in Britain are classed as obese (compared to 23.1 per cent of men) and that clinical studies show men can lose an average of 10 per cent of their body weight over three months, while women manage only five per cent.
Research into the 'whys and wherefores' might help health professionals to develop gender-specific weight loss programmes, tailored to the sexes' natural strengths and weaknesses to ensure quick results and long-term maintenance.
However, there are clearly other factors that must be studied before such strategies can be attempted: for example, the fact that women have a lower muscle mass than men and store more body fat; the effects of oestrogen on appetite, food intake and fat distribution (a factor that the next stage of Dr Wang's research will take into account). Not to mention the many contributory lifestyle issues, ranging from which sex does the most cooking to the way in which sport is introduced to girls and boys in schools.
So, while Dr Wang's research could prove a useful tool in the battle against obesity, premature and accusatory media headlines, blaming women for their lack of control over their waistlines, are simply inflammatory. Yesterday's articles reporting this story were littered with irritating phrases, presumably written by men: ‘Women, the weaker sex..at resisting food' crowed Daily Mail online, while the Independent's website talked of women ‘long bemoaning' their inability to lose weight. It proclaimed: ‘a new study shows the problem may not be what's in the fridge, but what's in their brains'.
The implication is that women are flimsy-minded, innately greedy and lack the self-mastery that men so easily achieve. After all, Eve took the first bite of the apple.
This does nothing to aid my diet, merely causing my hackles to rise. And I don't know about anybody else, but anger tends to make me pretty hungry...