TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox and this NEWS & NOTES.
A study in the American Journal of Physiology found women burn on average 16 percent fewer calories than men. So we wonder, when it comes to his and hers weight control, who has the edge? For the skinny on this battle of the bulge, NPR's Farai Chideya turned to NEWS & NOTES nutritionist Rovenia Brock.
FARAI CHIDEYA: When it comes to weight loss, do gender differences really exist and why?
Dr. ROVENIA BROCK (Author, "Dr. Ro's Ten Secrets to Livin' Healthy"): Well, yeah, gender differences actually do exist and they are basically physiological and some social. And by physiological I mean men burning more calories than women, and the reason is connected to our body structure, actually. Men tend to carry much more or greater muscle mass than women. So women typically have a higher fat to muscle ratio. And when you have more muscle on your body, you have the edge of burning more calories at rest.
CHIDEYA: Now when we talk about women having more fat than men, is it because of our female curves or are we going beyond that?
Dr. BROCK: I think we are going beyond that. Yes, our female curves are very important in this scenario. But it's lifestyle and it's sociological kinds of things like, for example, women tend to be much more emotional eaters. The other thing is even as we socialize, if you put a gathering of women together and a gathering of men together, they'll find a way to play ball or to do something where they can exert physical energy, and we'll find a way to talk and emote and gather in the kitchen over a meal.
CHIDEYA: I think that's largely true, but of course there are some women who get their ya-yas out with softball and some guys who'd sit around and drink pints.
Dr. BROCK: Absolutely.
CHIDEYA: But is it a matter of changing behavior and not just - we've talked a lot, you and I, through the fitness challenge and beyond have talked a lot about personal behavior, but is there or should there be a way to change group behavior?
Dr. BROCK: Well, yes, there is a way to change group and individual behavior. And there are some things that will work best for women, and some of those same things that men can benefit from as well.
I think one of the things that we definitely want to concentrate on is this whole business of yo-yo dieting. And I would say the women tend to diet to a much greater extent than men do. And when you do, you affect your - and lower your basal metabolic rates.
So when you significantly lower your BMR, the result is a reduced metabolism and therefore reduced muscle mass. And when you have a lower metabolic rate, you burn an average of 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than normal. So that's one thing that we can adjust.
CHIDEYA: How do you adjust it? How do you get your metabolic rate back up?
Dr. BROCK: Well, first of all, you stop the yo-yo dieting. You start to eat more consistently over time. One of the things that you want to do is eat smaller portions. You know, we consume far greater calories or more calories than we need for normal body maintenance, and we've talked about this before, let alone weight loss. So we've got to eat smaller portions and not the construction workers' lunch and dinner meals that our male counterparts tend to eat.
The other thing is we've got to eat more frequently, five or six small meals a day. Eating that over time is going to help you to adjust your metabolic rate and keep it at a steady level.
And then the other thing is we have to move more. Women could benefit significantly from picking up weights in order to build more muscle mass, all of this enables you to burn more fat and calories even at rest.
CHIDEYA: What kind of conversations do we need to have in terms of boys and girls? We've been talking about men and women, but I know that you and I have also talked about childhood obesity. Are there different conversations that you have to have with boys and girls, or do you have the same conversation with both genders?
Dr. BROCK: I think we need to start talking to girls about physical activity. You know, boys are naturally sort of thrust to play time in groups with sports and games. And there's no reason that girls should only be guided to play with dolls and not, you know, guided to the court and to get physical activity in their lives.
I think we have to sort of change our orientation as to how we socialize boys and girls just in the sense that we need to make sure that our girls aren't given short thrift and are also directed to get physical activity, whether it's through sports or whether it's through family fun. We need to make sure that girls are equally engaged in becoming fit.
CHIDEYA: There are many, many different stories about whether or not having sex is one way to burn calories, and if so, it's something men and women can do together for their health. What do you say to that?
Dr. BROCK: I say go for it. If you have a healthy, active sex life as long as you're being safe about it. It's got to make you healthier not only physically perhaps, but certainly mentally and emotionally. So if that's what floats your boat, I say go for it. Just know that it's going to take a lot of physical activity, even in this area, to burn significant calories. But you can benefit from this kind of an event in your life.
CHIDEYA: So don't give up the treadmill is what you're saying.
Dr. BROCK: No, but do both.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Well, Dr. Ro, as always, thank you.
Dr. BROCK: It's always a pleasure.
COX: Rovenia Brock is a regular contributor to NEWS & NOTES and author of "Dr. Ro's Ten Secrets to Living Healthy."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.