Sexual Quality of Life Lower for the Obese
DURHAM, N.C. – Obesity significantly impairs sexual quality
of life for men and women, Duke University Medical Center
researchers have found.
Obese people report sexual problems such as lack of desire,
lack of enjoyment, avoiding sex and performance difficulty at a
much higher rate than people of normal weight – in some cases,
they are 25 times more likely to report problems, according to
the Duke study. Overall, women experienced more difficulties
than men among both weight groups, but the gender differences
were small compared to the disparity between the obese and
normal weight study populations.
"Our study shows a striking difference in sexual quality of
life between obese and normal weight people. Sexual quality of
life is an important issue for everyone, and with the growing
prevalence of obesity in this country, increasing numbers of
people will likely be affected," said study co-investigator
Martin Binks, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of
behavioral health at the Duke Diet & Fitness
The results were presented Nov. 15, 2004, at the annual
meeting of The North American Association for the Study of
Obesity in Las Vegas. Funding was provided by the Duke Diet
& Fitness Center, a residential treatment program for
obesity that emphasizes lifestyle change, physical activity and
Co-investigator Ronette Kolotkin, Ph.D., a clinical
psychologist with experience treating obese patients, said
losing weight and increasing physical activity can help restore
sexual quality of life for people with obesity-related
"My patients tell me that losing a little weight and getting
fit makes them feel 10 to 20 years younger in terms of their
sexual quality of life," she said. Kolotkin developed the
31-item study questionnaire, called Impact of Weight on Quality
of Life-Lite, which evaluates all aspects of weight-related
quality of life.
More than 1,200 study participants answered questions about
their general sexual quality of life, as well as four, more
specific sexual topics: lack of enjoyment of sexual activity;
lack of sexual desire; difficulty with sexual performance; and
avoidance of sexual encounters.
Almost two-thirds (65.4 percent) of obese people seeking
treatment at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center reported sexual
impairments in at least one of these four areas, compared to
five percent of normal weight people. The Duke researchers also
questioned obese people who were not seeking weight loss
treatment; 41 percent said they experienced sexual
Of the 1,210 study participants, 506 obese people seeking
treatment were drawn from the Duke Diet & Fitness Center;
422 obese and 282 normal weight people who weren't seeking to
lose weight were recruited from the community. The average body
mass index (BMI) of the obese groups was 41 for the treatment
seekers and 40 for the non-treatment seekers. BMI is a
measurement of body fat based on height and weight, and obesity
is defined as a BMI of 30 or greater. The normal weight group
had an average BMI of 22.
The average age of the groups was 48 for treatment seekers;
45 for non-treatment seekers; and 35 for normal weight people.
The balance between men and women varied between the groups.
About 53 percent of the obese treatment seekers were women,
rising to 67 percent in the obese non-treatment group and 71
percent in the normal weight group.
The most significant differences were between normal weight
people and obese people seeking treatment at the Duke Diet
& Fitness Center. Only 2 percent of the normal weight group
reported sometimes, usually or always feeling no desire for
sex, compared to 50 percent of obese treatment seekers.
Additionally, 42 percent said they sometimes, usually or always
had sexual function problems and 41 percent said they avoided
sex; the responses were 1.8 percent and 2.5 percent,
respectively, in the normal weight group.
The group of obese people who weren't seeking to lose weight
didn't experience sexual quality of life issues as frequently
as people at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, however, the
rates in this group were significantly higher than for normal
weight persons. About 29 percent said they sometimes, usually
or always felt no desire for sex or had problems with sexual
function, and 24 percent said they avoided sex. But the
response was nearly equal in one category – 28 percent of
treatment seekers and 30 percent of non-treatment seekers said
they sometimes, usually or always did not enjoy sex, compared
to 3.9 percent of normal weight people.