They do not like the word "diet'', shun slimming products and hate faddy eating regimes - but a record one in four men is trying to lose weight, a study has revealed.

At a time when two-thirds of the male population is overweight or obese, the proportion which is attempting to shed the pounds has risen from 16.6 per cent in 1980 to 24.8 per cent this year. Experts say that the rise of the male dieter has so far been missed by the slimming industry, which has traditionally targeted women.

But analysts warned that men who want to lose weight are less likely to be seduced by slimming products or fad diets - and do not even like using the "s" word or the "d" word. The report by the market research company Mintel found that the gap between the number of men and women who diet has narrowed over the past 20 years.

In 1980, there were more than two women dieters for every man trying to lose weight. By 2004, that ratio had fallen to 1.7 female dieters to every man, and Mintel predicts that within 40 years, the sexes will be trying to beat the bulge in equal numbers.

However, the survey of almost 1,000 men and women found that the sexes have very different attitudes to weight loss. While only 8 per cent of women say they would never diet, more than one in six men - 16 per cent - are committed non-slimmers.

Half of all women say they lose weight to boost their self esteem, compared with just 32 per cent of men. And only 3 per cent of men would consider joining a weight-loss club, compared with 14 per cent of women. John Ville, deputy editor of Men's Health magazine, said: "Men want to eat healthily and keep in shape, but they are a lot more sceptical about the whole dieting industry.

"They are too used to having to pick up the pieces of their wives and girlfriends who get on the scales each morning and realise the latest diet fad or slimming product hasn't worked. They don't even like the word 'diet'. It is a total no-no for our front cover."

Men are more likely to cut out alcohol or take more exercise than to resort to meal replacements or the Atkins diet, the report found. More than half of male dieters would cut calories for health reasons, but only 6 per cent would consider losing weight to fit into a smaller clothes size, compared with 25 per cent of women. And fewer than one in 10 males would think about losing a few pounds to attract the opposite sex.

But experts believe the industry is missing a chance to persuade more men to buy diet-related foods and products.

The report concludes: "Men are more likely than women to be overweight, yet the market for slimming foods for men has yet to be properly exploited, pointing to some embarrassment for men. The word 'slimming' is something of an anathema to many men.

"There is a potential for a range of slimming food products that do not use the 's' word, target men and focus on toning up and staying healthy rather than slimming, which has too many dieting connotations."

The slimming foods market is worth £103m.