I was killing some time recently on my lunch break walking along Lonsdale Ave past a “health” food store with a large poster on the front door advertising a book signing for: The effect of gender on your health. This is a topic that I have always found fascinating. However, this particular book was dedicated to women’s health, unsurprising considering that a gender and health book geared to men would sell about as many copies as a book dedicated to a historical perspective of the demise of the Wooly Mammoth (not many, I think). The topic of men’s health is simply not going to put food on the table for an author. The conversation is certainly needed but… it men, it seems, don’t have much interest in this conversation.
A little extra wiggle room for this conversation grows, alongside mustaches, in the moth of November – otherwise known as MO-vember. Movember got it’s start in 2003 when a group of Australian men with an interest in bringing back the mustache started a friendly competition with 30 friends. The group decided to donate the proceeds from the competition to their local prostate cancer centre. Since then, the goal of the Movember organization has broadened from prostate cancer to men’s health in general, even talking about it!
The statistics surrounding the health of men is not good. Men typically have a lifespan five years shorter than women and die at a higher rate than woman at every stage of their lives, even as infants. The reasons for this are multi-factorial and involve both physiological, behavioral, cultural and societal components. As a fitness and health care professional I have been shocked by the lack of attention men’s health issues have garnered. The lack of attention has come with many consequences, the examples are all around us:
In the current opioid crisis, 83% of the victims are men, many who have self-medicated themselves for pain relief.
More than 75% of suicide victims are men, in fact in Canada 50 men a week will die from suicide, now the leading cause of death for middle aged men, ahead of car crashes.
Men have less successful recoveries from almost all major diseases and are less likely to seek out treatment for health issues when they arise.
Men suffer higher workplace injuries, traffic fatalities and even in times of war die at a rate 3 times that of women.
To ignore this reality is to ignore a huge segment of our population, but it is sad to say that is what I believe many in our health care system have done.
When I checked out the website for Movember it struck me how different a look and feel the site had to other health sites I frequently visit. The site captured my attention, whether it was the pictures of motor bikes or the very short pieces of information that were easy to digest, and I believer the website is a good example of the need to change messaging to fit the demographic we want to target. Comparing the need to check cholesterol to the need of checking your oil levels so your engine doesn’t seize up will get a lot more men interested in reducing their junk food intake than throwing a bunch of stats at them.
Many men do treat their health similarly to how I deal with my motorbike: if there isn’t smoke billowing out the side of the engine we’re good to go. But this “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality is probably not a good way to deal with our health. Proactively engaging men in health issues and getting away from the attitude that a “manly man” doesn’t fret about their health is a cultural concept that we still need to address. Maybe a man’s strength should not be related to the absence of disease but related to that of running a well-oiled high performing engine/body. I find much of our “medical speak” takes the tack of the former. Maybe a man’s body is not as strong as we make it out to be, the stats definitely don’t seem to indicate this.
Having lived on Bowen now for several years I have always been impressed by the manner by which the community has taken up the cause of Movember. It is not a glamorous topic and most of the intended audience is largely disengaged from the subject but the need is definitely there. While talk may be cheap, talk is a precursor to action and as a community it is impressive how we have begun the conversation, and hopefully we can motivate the healthcare community to engage more as well. While the moustache is slowly coming back into fashion I am hopeful that what will also come into fashion is a heightened concern about the many preventable health issues that are needlessly and disproportionally taking far too many men.