The idea that, when it comes to health, men are reckless or clueless fools is a simplistic caricature that has been blown away, hopefully once and for all, by a new very large multinational survey commissioned by Sanofi Consumer Health Care. Its publication this month is very timely given that November is Movember. Alongside Men’s Health Week in June, Movember is the largest worldwide annual event focusing attention on men’s health.
16,000 men and women in eight countries, including the USA, were asked about their attitudes and behaviours in the area of self-care. Global Action on Men's Health was one of the survey's collaborating organisations, along with several of our member organisations, including the U.S.-based Men’s Health Network and the Men’s Health Education Council.
Men’s health is far worse than it need be. From a global perspective, the gap between male and female life expectancy is significant: in 1980, men’s lives were, on average, four years shorter than women’s; by 2015, the difference was six years; and, by 2030, the male:female health ‘gap’ is predicted to grow to seven years. This large difference is not just a problem in low-income countries—in 2015, men died five years sooner than women in the wealthier countries.
Men also live fewer years in good health. Globally, men can expect a ‘healthy life expectancy’ that is three years below women’s. In the wealthier countries, the healthy life expectancy gap is four years.
The excess health burden facing men has many causes. As a result of male socialisation and the failure of health systems to initiate approaches known to be effective for men, too many continue to take too many risks with their health by smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating a poor diet, driving dangerously, and underusing a range of primary care services. (In a recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, 30% of men said they would ‘wait as long as possible’ before seeing a doctor.) The nature of many men’s occupations, which exposes them to a wide range of hazards, is also a significant factor.
Poor health is not inevitable for men. It is not genetic in origin, except perhaps to a small degree. We now know more than enough about how to support men to take better care of themselves and improve the accessibility of health services. One significant European example is Eurofit. This project works with professional soccer clubs in several countries to engage overweight men in diet and physical activity programmes. It is a good example of how a male-targeted intervention can make a significant and measurable impact.
A systematic, multi-sectoral approach led by health policymakers and providers is now required and the development of national men’s health policies would be a very good place to start. The national men's health policy in Ireland is known to have made a significant impact and could be replicated in many more countries and even globally by the World Health Organisation (WHO). A men’s health perspective should also be integrated into all other relevant policies, such as policies for cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, or diabetes.
The Global Men’s Health Survey—the most comprehensive international survey of men’s health published to date—can contribute to the momentum for change, particularly in the field of self-care. The standout findings include:
- The overwhelming majority of men want to take charge of their health. Four out of five men feel as confident as women when it comes to managing their own health. The idea that men are simply hell-bent on self-destruction, reluctant to think about their health, or helpless fools is exposed as a myth.
- Men are generally very positive about the value of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. 60% say they trust OTC medicines as much as medicines prescribed by a doctor. This bodes well for efforts to improve men’s self-care.
- Men’s trust in pharmacists is improving. 80% of men believe that less serious and chronic conditions like headaches, migraines, nausea, and allergies can be dealt with by pharmacists. However, their actual use of pharmacies is still at a low level—with only 4% of men using a pharmacy as a first option when feeling unwell. However, it is clear from the findings that pharmacies have huge potential as a resource for men’s health and that men’s health and pharmacy organisations should work together to make pharmacies a service more men will want to use.
- There is significant underuse of digital health services by men. When faced with a health problem, surprisingly few men’s first response would be to go online to look up their symptoms and possible treatments. However, more than half of all men believe there is plentiful information online to help them choose the right medication. This suggests there is huge potential for improved engagement through reputable websites, social media, and apps—especially delivered via mobile platforms.
- Men remain reluctant to seek help for a range of sexual health problems, including erectile dysfunction (ED). Even though ED is often a symptom of a potentially serious underlying condition, men are still deterred by embarrassment and a belief that the problem will go away on its own. The survey shows that 98% of men would seek help for sexually transmitted infections but far fewer, 63%, for ED. Improving men’s knowledge, confidence, and ability to access services for sexual health issues is of critical importance
The survey offers many important new insights and will contribute to the growing awareness and debate about the still too frequently overlooked inequality that is men’s health and, most importantly, to new initiatives to improve the length and quality of men’s lives.