HERSHEY – One might think that men are doing just fine in America, particularly white men. Maybe in some areas, but in health, the situation for men is not that good. Life expectancy, for example, is about 80.3 years for white women and 75.6 years for black women, but it’s 75.1 years for white men and 68.8 years for black men. In 1920, life expectancy was about equal for both genders.
Compared to women, men are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease, one and one-half times more likely to die from cancer and have two and one-half times more accidental deaths. They also are three to four times more likely to die from suicide or homicide.
Men use half as many doctor visits as women and are less likely to get routine checkups and see a doctor when ill. Some think this is because men are socialized not to appear weak or in need of assistance, or perhaps it’s genetic — it’s not clear. Consequently, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes may go undetected while they cause damage.
Men are much less likely than women to complain of depression even though men get depressed at about the same rate. This, combined with a tendency to be more violent, leads to a higher risk of successful suicide among men. Clearly, things must change.
The media is filled with ads promoting erectile dysfunction drugs, but no one tells men that ED is often due to atherosclerosis and may be a warning sign for developing heart disease, the No. 1 killer of men. If all men were screened for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, a major dent could be made in the incidence of heart disease. Employers who help smokers quit and encourage more exercise for men in all walks of life could cut disability and mortality and keep men more productive at work.
Men’s Health Week has been promoted since 1994 during the week before Father’s Day. Some in Congress believe an office of men’s health should be established to parallel the Office of Women’s Health. To date, legislation is pending and information on men’s health exists on the PA Department of Health’s Web site at http://www.dsf.health.state.pa.us/health/cwp/browse.asp?a=174&bc=0&c=38827 online.
Government support may help, but for now, the simple message to men is to get a regular checkup. Starting in the 20s, a screening exam can detect problems early, when intervention will be most beneficial. The frequency of screening increases with age, but is typically every few years in the 20s and 30s, increasing to annually after age 50. Recommendations for preventive services are updated frequently as new evidence is found, so having a primary care physician will make it easier to stay up to date. Of course, screening is of no use unless the problems are fixed.
Men’s health affects the lives of women, too. Consider that 80 percent of the elderly living alone are women, and half of the elderly widows living in poverty were not poor before the deaths of their husbands.
It’s not a sign of strength to ignore preventable problems. A car won’t function well or last as long without preventive maintenance. If one’s body is to provide continued service into old age, take it in for a checkup once in a while.