For the past three weeks, we have been focusing on issues and topics related to men's health. This focus has been part of our effort to celebrate Men's Health Month, which is celebrated every June across the country. Summit Medical Group, along with many other community organizations and businesses, work hard each year to raise awareness of the many preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of health issues that affect men, boys, and their families.
However, despite all these efforts, a significant gender gap persists. Men and boys still die in greater numbers and at younger ages from nine of the top 10 causes of death. They account for more than 90% of workplace injuries and fatalities, are less likely than women to be insured, and are far less likely to see a doctor for preventive care. All of this impacts their ability to be involved fathers, supportive husbands, and engaged members of their community.
Some of the biggest threats to men's health aren't what you might think.
While biology may play a role here, many experts believe that the majority of premature deaths and illnesses that affect men and boys are preventable. The real culprits are socialization and lifestyle. From as early as childhood, we are all taught that "big boys don't cry," which often leads to the inevitable "macho-man" attitude later in life, where men are expected to ignore health concerns and "push through" the pain. Many of the leading causes of death in men - such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke could have far better outcomes if men were able and willing to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment promptly.
The same 'macho' attitude often keeps men from seeking help for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues as well. As a result, boys and men self-medicate — smoking, drinking, drugs, and engaging in risky behavior — at far higher rates than women. Men are also four times more likely than females to commit suicide.
Protecting men's health in the current American landscape
Unfortunately, the gender gap in life expectancy has continues to increase in the US, not only as a result of the factors listed above, but also due to increased numbers of opiate-related deaths in young men and boys, as well as complications from COVID-19 which, according to the World Health Organization, have killed significantly more men than women in the US and across the world.
Addressing current health issues will take time.
The good news is that, working together, we can improve and lengthen the lives of men and boys in our lives, whether they're dads, fathers, sons, husbands, uncles, boyfriends, friends, or the guy down the street. But how do we do that? Despite the shelter-in-place orders that are still affecting most of us, a great starting point is raise awareness by helping celebrate Men's Health Month.
You can do that today by encouraging the men and boys in your life to eat right, get exercise, and follow the recommended social distancing protocols (a recent study found that males are less likely than females to comply, which isn't surprising considering their disproportionate predisposition toward risky behavior).
When social distancing and shelter in place protocols are finally lifted, the next step will be to encourage them to schedule a thorough physical exam. If they won't do it, show them a little love and help them make an appointment. Chances are, it's long overdue. A great source of men's age-specific, health-related information can be found at GetItChecked.com.
The bottom line
Reversing the statistics regarding men's health and the gender gap isn't going to happen overnight. The first Men's Health Month took place in 1994. At that time, women were outliving men by 6.6 years. Now, 26 years later, that number has dropped to just 5 years. While that is a dramatic change for the better, it is also a clear indication that changing these numbers requires a change in culture and lifestyle — and that takes time. But if we remain consistent and committed to the men in our lives, a very real and positive change can be made, starting today.