Think You Know the #1 Men's Health Issue?
Which of the following diseases affect the health of more men in the United States than any other? Is it?
All of these diseases are top contenders and all appear, year after year, on lists of the deadliest diseases for men. Yet, the biggest health issue for men is simply lack of regular health care. One recent study indicates that men are seriously under-represented in our nation’s health care system. More than one study found that women are three times more likely than men to see a doctor on a regular basis.
During this study, more than half of all men had not seen a primary care physician for a physical exam in the past year. Even though more than 40% of the participants had been diagnosed with chronic conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, or diabetes. The trend starts early; by mid to late teens, boys’ trips to primary care doctors already begin to drop off.
Men also die younger than women. In 1920, women outlived men only by one year. Today, CDC figures show the life expectancy gap has widened: On average, women survive men by over five years. Simply put, men get sick and die far earlier than they should. Men living in poverty are hit the hardest. One doctor from the study was quoted as saying, “In my practice, I have seen men in their early thirties who require triple bypass heart surgery because of uncontrolled high cholesterol. I have seen other young men present for the first time with renal failure caused by undiagnosed hypertension. And, I have lost count of the young men who come to me having unrecognized and uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes.”
The study was geared toward finding the reason for the health care disparity between men and women. One obvious reason is that just as boys stop visiting their childhood physicians, girls are making their first visits to gynecologists. Broadly, young women come of age amidst a range of medical specialties geared toward addressing their health concerns. High-profile campaigns around breast cancer, annual Pap smears and reproductive health choices have raised awareness, putting women’s health at the center of the public conversation.
There is nothing comparable for young men, a fact that undoubtedly contributes to their reluctance to go to doctors on a regular basis. A dangerous pattern begins when you couple the overall perception that boys are “tough” with the likelihood they do not see their fathers going to the doctors very often.
The disparity of men versus women is the health care system is not indicative of women having more health issues. As a society, it simply means that we are doing a better job of teaching young women to be proactive with health care, see their doctors when necessary and not be reluctant to ask health care questions. The silence of men should not be confused with the absence of anxiety. While many adolescent and young adult men are healthy, study after study proves that many men bury health concerns that they don’t share with anyone.
The World Health Organization’s definition of health is that it goes beyond the absence of disease. Based on this, we should recognize the importance of finding ways to encourage boys and men to make use of the health care system and help prevent early complications of preventable conditions. One promising approach is coming out of a Young Men's Clinic in New York City. They are investing in reproductive health services for adolescent and young adult men. Over the past decade, this community-based health program has seen a 450% increase in unique patients, with most of this increase occurring over the past four years. Tough to argue with results with that show that level of effectiveness. 450%!
By solidifying their connection with the health care system and reproductive health services, we can support young men in making better and healthier decisions for the rest of their entire lives. Women stand to benefit too, as men begin building new and better patterns around issues including intimacy, sexual violence, and pregnancy prevention. Sexual and reproductive health services also provide a route to addressing other medical issues, including mental health. It’s important to recognize that all of the high-profile mass shootings in the last decade were the acts of young adult men. Overall, males are disproportionately likely to die due to suicide.
Planned Parenthood is making nationwide efforts to extend its reach to men. More broadly, the early provision of the Affordable Care Act to include young adults on their parents’ health care plans was a great step toward increasing access for young adults, men as well as women.
We can build on this positive momentum and create cultures where men see their doctors for regular physical exams. It starts at home by encouraging teen boys and young men to discuss mental and physical health issues with their parents and family doctor. Setting that pattern early, seems to be key for a lifetime of preventative health care behavior rather than only seeing the doctor in reactionary mode... After the stroke, heart attack or other, various “symptoms” begin to surface. Often times, when it is too late, on a disease that could have been prevented, minimized or cured with a change to a healthier lifestyle combined with regular care from a physician or specialist. Don’t be a part of the statistic that doesn’t make it. Be a part of the group who listens to the statistics and does something about it!