Men's Health Week

I heard this joke the other day: A new man checks into the nursing home and one of the women residents begins to question him.

Woman: And where were you before you came here?
Man: Prison!
Woman: Oh.  And what were you there for?
Man: Murder!
Woman: Oh.  And whom did you kill.
Man: My wife.  I beat her, stabbed her until she was dead, and cut up her body!
Woman: Oh . . . . . . So that means … you’re single?

We laugh because everyone knows the situation: men die earlier than women, so that there are many more women in their 80s and 90s than there are men.  By age 100, in fact, there are eight women to every man.  So what if he’s a vicious murderer (maybe she can change him?)!
Men’s Health Week was proclaimed by a joint resolution of Congress in 1994 with the goal to “heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.”  (June is Men’s Health Month)

Facts

(from Men’s Health Network)
Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death and are the victims of over 92% of workplace deaths.

Leading Causes of Death, 2003 *

Cause of Death Men Women
Heart Disease 286.6 190.3
Cancer
233.3
160.9
Injuries (intentional)
51.8
24.4
Cerebrovascular disease
54.1
52.3
Chronic lower respiratory disease
52.3
37.8
Diabetes
28.9
22.5
Pneumonia/Flu
26.1
19.4
HIV Infection
7.1
2.4
Suicide
18.0
4.2
Homicide
9.4
2.6

 

Heart Disease, 2003 *

Almost twice as many men as women die of ischemic heart disease:

Ischemic heart disease 209.9 127.2


Cancer, 2003 *

50% more men than women die of cancer. Examples of this disparity include:

Lung, Trachea, Bronchus 71.7
41.3
 Colorectal  22.9 16.2


* CDC 2005, Figures are age-adjusted rates per 100,000 U.S. population

Depression and Suicide

  • Depression in men is often undiagnosed, contributing to the fact that men are 4 times as likely to commit suicide.
  • Among 15- to 19-year-olds, boys were 5 times as likely as girls to commit suicide.
  • Among 20- to 24-year-olds, males were 7 times as likely to commit suicide as females.
  • The suicide rate for persons age 65 and above: 38.4 for men, 6.0 for women.

Effect on the Aging Population **

  • More males than females are born (105 – 100), but beginning before age 35, women outnumber men.
  • Of the 9 million+ older persons living alone, 80% are women.
  • More than 1/2 the elderly widows living in poverty were not poor before the death of their husbands.
  • At age 100, women outnumber men 8 – 1.

** U.S. Administration on Aging and The New York Times Magazine

In 1920, women lived, on average, one year longer than men. Today, men, on average, die almost six years earlier than women. (CDC)
Women are 100% more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations and preventive services than men. (CDC 2001)
Men are significantly less likely to have health insurance than are women, and that the gap is widening.  Among people living in poverty, men are much less likely to have access to health insurance.

Attitudes

Are men genetically disposed to live shorter lives than women?  I don’t think anyone knows.  The fact that, a century ago, men’s and women’s longevity were nearly the same suggests that it would be wrong to blame today’s discrepancy primarily on our genes – there must be other reasons.  And one of these – perhaps the most important – is attitude.
Even today in our world of sometimes sensitive and huggy men, when it comes to his own health and well-being, the predominant male attitude is to “tough it out.”  Compared to women, men go to the doctor less often, get less preventive care and health counseling, and even when ailing, seek medical attention later and when their conditions have progressed further.  Up until about age 65, when it has perhaps become imperative, fewer men have routine checkups than do women.  Men tend to perceive themselves as healthier than do women, although statistically the opposite is true.  Because of these attitudes, we males often do not get the health care we need when we need it.
Men, especially young men, engage more in risky behavior – sun exposure, fast or reckless driving, excessive drinking, contact sports, even fighting – than do women.  Over 80% of all deaths of men between 15 and 24 are from fatal injuries.  Men’s eating habits are often less healthy than women’s; our blood pressure tends to be higher and we do less control it.  Men on average get less sleep than do women, and we are far less likely to take off time from work when we are sick or injured.
And even if we do get worried about ourselves, we tend not to talk about our health; even when we do go to the doctor we are reluctant to discuss our sexual functioning – which may be related to other health issues – or to “complain,” even about potentially serious problems.  We grow up with contradictory messages about our health – even in these sensitive times, many boys learn that they must appear strong and in control, show no emotion, and never ask for help.

Men’s Health and Weight

Many men do not seem bothered about being overweight, perhaps because being heavy is less unacceptable for a man than for a woman.  Some men may even see a moderate beer belly as a source of pride.  To many, being a big eater is a positive thing, part of their self-image.  There may also be a feeling that gaining inches and weight is natural and inevitable as one grows older.  Many men go from an athletic young adulthood to a life with very little physical activity by their 40s, but they continue to eat (and drink) as they did before.
Excess weight puts a man (or woman) at a higher risk of diabetes, exacerbates knee and back problems, and, especially in the form of belly fat, puts one a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

Conclusion

Is simply possessing a Y chromosome a cause by itself of increased mortality?  I doubt that anyone today could give an authoritative answer.  Our focus needs to be on changing attitudes among men and in our society as a whole, to reorient men and boys – brothers, parents, sons, spouses, and friends – toward valuing good health and health-seeking behaviors for themselves.  Men’s Health Week is a start.

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