Why living can be so unfair on the fairer sex

Staying healthy is an uphill fight for mothers. Exclusive life style report from Debbie Davies
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It starts so well for women. They're so much more grown up and intelligent about their health lives. Good food, exercise, not too much drink, careful on the cigarettes.

Then they get married. Then they have children. Then it all, goes wrong.

In their teenage (15-24) years 71 pewr cent of women take part in exercise, but by the time they reach 45-54 fewer than one in three are taking part in sport and exercise.

More than half of women under 25 take the trouble top to try new health products. This does not occur to two out of three men. Women resist fatty foods and sweets far more determinedly than men in their teens and twenties and are far more likely to eat fresh fruit and vegetables than men. But with the arrival of children women's resisistance to sugary foods is eroded.

It may well be that that women can justifiably claim better dietary habits than men through out their lives, but the main beneficiaries of their ability to choose a better diet appear to be their partner and their children. According to a report into healthy lifestyles published by Mintel, the market research company, women are more likely to eat fresh fruit and vegetables regularly, and to keep down the amount of fat in their diet, than men. Only once they pass the age of 65, do women express a greater fondness for fish and chips and fried foods than men, and at no stage in their lives does their consumption of red meat exceed that of men. If they have a dietary weakness, it is for sweets and chocolates: More women than men say they occasionally treat themselves to sweets and chocolates.

Despite carrying the flag for healthy eating women are more likely to be obese than men: 16% of women are obese compared to 13% of men and the trend among women is moving away from targets set by the Government. At a time when everyone appears to jog, cycle or keep fit, women have become fatter and so face increased risk of coronary disease and strokes. Mintel's proposition is that the stages women progress through as they grow up. marry and become a parent, have a bearing and explain in part why women's best intentions do not always translate into health benefits for themselves.

Before marriage and a family, women are the most enthusiastic health consumers, according to Mintel. This is easy to understand. While boys get muscles, girls grow curves and although their shapes become more voluptuous, they live in a world of one dimensional screen and fashion magazine role models. Consequently, nearly half are keen to try new ways of keeping healthy and most take exercise. Red meat is definitely off their menu and one in ten claims to be slightly underweight.

Once they acquire a partner, women set about changing their husband's dietary habits for the better. Married men are more likely to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and to cut down on red meat consumption, and less likely to eat chips and fatty foods, than men who remain single.

Having children marks the next major change in women's dietary habits . As mothers, their concern about healthy eating increases as they take on the task of moulding a new generation of healthy consumers to follow in their footsteps. In reality, motherhood is more a dietary remoulding process in reverse. Children bring a liking for sausage and chips, followed by ice cream, washed down with fizzy drinks so their inbfluence on parents, especially women are more likely than those without children to eat both sugary and fatty foods on a regular basis.

Once children have left home, women change their lifestyles once again and are keen to regain their old eating habits. Vegetables are back on the menu. More than nine out of ten 45-54 year old women compared to about three quarters of those in the 35-44 age group, take care to include fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet on a daily basis. As they approach their mid fifties, their interest in following a low fat diet is rekindled; nearly two thirds of women in the 55-64 age group believe they are overweight to some degree.

With age comes resignation. One in five post family women - a higher proportion than in any other group - say they are not prepared to change their lifestyle for the sake of their health.

For the first time in their adult lives, women adopt less healthy diets than men. They be come less likely than men to opt for a low fat diet and having always eschewed a live for today lifestyle, they become as likely as men to adopt this attitude. While men's interest in health advice increases as retirement approaches, women's declines.

There is consolation for women, according to Angela Hughes editor of the Healthy Lifestyles Report.

" Women do get their first on healthy eating" says Miss Hughes. "Early on they are enthusiastic health consumers, so the culture is already here." They will try new ideas and by the time they reach motherhood, nearly one in five will have taken herbal or homeopathic medicines. Men, by comparison, are latecomers. "Only when diet related health problems really starting to kick in at age 40 plus do men really take healthy diets on board," says Miss Hughes.

Where women come unstuck is more to do with the ups and downs of real life than their holding mistaken beliefs. " Women's lives become very hectic when they reach the family stage," says Mrs Hughes. There is not always the time to prepare proper meals and with knowledge comes enticement. Oscar Wilde, who could resist everything except temptation would understand.