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Male obesity and erectile dysfunction

"While it’s well-known that excess weight, and especially obesity, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, researchers have also established a related link to men's loss of sexual performance. The good news is that research supported by the Bupa Health Foundation has found that this situation can be reversed."

Dr Christine Bennett
Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia

What is erectile dysfunction? 

Erectile dysfunction in men (also known as impotence) refers to the inability to get or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse, and this may be associated with a loss of libido.

Erectile dysfunction is often a symptom or consequence of some other problem. It was once thought that erectile dysfunction was mainly caused by psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression, but it’s now known that most cases actually have a physical cause.

While occasional erectile dysfunction is normal, ongoing impotence can be a symptom of an underlying physical illness, such as blood vessel disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. These particular problems also affect the heart and the blood vessels that supply the heart.

Because of the established links between erectile dysfunction and chronic medical conditions, if you notice that impotence is an ongoing problem for you or your partner, it’s important that you speak with your doctor to exclude physical illness as the cause.

What is the connection between obesity and erectile dysfunction? 

Studies show overweight and obese men have a much higher rate of erectile dysfunction than their healthier weight counterparts. Being overweight or obese can increase your chances of erectile dysfunction by 30-90 per cent. This isn't surprising given the link between obesity and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease, and the relationship between male erection and blood supply.

Being obese or overweight is also associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. There are well-established links between diabetes and erectile dysfunction, and men typically begin to notice symptoms of erectile dysfunction within the first 10 years of their diagnosis of diabetes.

What impact can this have on my health? 

A study conducted by the University of Adelaide, and supported by the Bupa Health Foundation, found that weight loss in obese men can improve erectile function and sexual desire.

The 12-month study of two groups of obese men discovered that with diet-induced weight loss, the abnormalities in sexual, lower urinary tract and cardiovascular function all improved, and the clinical benefits extended to sexual desire in both groups.

This study was significant in that it not only demonstrated the improvement in function, but also established one more good reason for men to lose weight and improve their sexual (as well as heart and vascular) health.

Key facts about obesity and erectile dysfunction 

  • Sixty-one percent of adults are overweight or obese.
  • A larger proportion of males are overweight or obese than females.
  • Around 21 percent of Australian middle aged and older men report being affected by erectile dysfunction.
  • Erectile dysfunction becomes more common as you get older, and men over 70 years of age have three times the incidence of men in their 40s.

Read the study 

Martin S Haren M Taylor A et al. Cohort Profile: The Florey Adelaide Male Ageing Study (FAMAS). International Journal of Epidemiology. 2007; 36: 302–306. Available

For more information 

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Last published: 30 July 2011

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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