It’s National Men’s Health Week this week everybody, June 9-15, a perfect opportunity to focus on the health of the men in our lives. I once witnessed my father make a plate of nachos using Doritos and two other types of cheese. While I applaud his innovation (he did it first Taco Bell), his heart is probably a little less than pleased with the decadent concoctions he’s fashioned throughout his life. To be fair, my Grandfather used to sit with his bag of popcorn next to a shaker of salt and stick of butter to apply to each kernel, so yes, I believe that health is a legacy that gets passed down.
Bad eating habits are not the only thing that get passed on, attitudes about health and healthcare are often transferred from father to son or taken on from societal views. It’s been long perpetuated in the media that men going to the doctor is somehow beneath them. If they can fix a toaster, they can fix their acid reflux, I suppose is the thinking there? Now, not all men need help in the health department but it is factually accurate that women tend to make health decisions for their families as they are more apt to seek medical treatment and do the food shopping before men. Also, married men are more prone to go to the doctor which could be a coincidence but… Anyway, in honor of National Men’s Health Week here is a closer look at how we can help make our men healthier.
National Men’s Health Week
I took this opportunity to speak with Dr. Michelle Reece, a behavioral scientist, research analyst, cancer educator, and men’s health advocate, to gain some insight into the main issues plaguing men’s health today.
What needs to change in how we view men’s health?
We need to reexamine how we socialize our boys and young men regarding masculinity and medical health seeking and to help them to see that these two concepts are not in conflict. Often masculinity is tied to sex appeal, career, job security or being able to support oneself or a family, but very seldom to asking for help when needed. We also have to encourage men to develop a trusting partnership with their health providers so that they can have frank conversations and reduce the stigma associated with telling another person their health concerns whether they are physical or mental issues. Health behaviors in early life impact health outcomes and quality of life across the life course.
What interested you in going into men’s health?
There is an interesting paradox in health research that indicates that if a person has a higher socioeconomic status, more wealth, and more power or advantage that they typical enjoy better health and on the other end poorer persons or more disadvantaged persons have poorer health outcomes. As we often hear ‘it’s a man’s world’ suggesting that they are the major power brokers, etc but men seek medical care less often than women, have poorer health outcomes, and shorter life spans. I wanted to find out why this is so? I have two brothers and dozens of male cousins between the ages of 30 and 60 years. I wanted to learn about their prospects.
Do you have any tips for parents to help their sons feel more comfortable seeking medical/mental health that they can implement from an early age?
Make good health a family priority. Older adult males should model, and talk about health seeking to help normalize the importance of seeking care when ill or have a health concern instead of perpetuating the idea that a man asking for help is a sign of weakness. Talk about health problems and mental health issues that children and adults face in a non-judgmental fashion and as a part of normal conversation.
What are the top concerns for men’s health? Who is most at risk (age, race, etc)?
Health concerns vary by age. Young adult men are at increased risk for accidents and injury. Older adult men have more chronic health issues such as cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, many of which are preventable or manageable with improved health behaviors, decrease use of alcohol, and smoking cessation.
Are there preventative measures we can take at home to combat those concerns?
- Diet and exercise
- Manage stress
- Annual preventive health visits
- Stay current on screenings and vaccination recommendations
- Asking for help
How do you go about finding a good fit when looking for a health care provider?
Great question! There are many things that a man might want to consider, or questions to ask himself. I think Medline has a good site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001939.htm
How well does the office staff communicate with you?
Do you get the feeling that the office or clinic is patient oriented and accommodating?
How easy is it to get an appointment?
Can you ever speak with the doctor in person or on the phone?
Is the provider certified, reputable, and covered by your insurance?
Do you have some preferences, male/female; race/ethnicity concordant; older provider/younger provider; etc.
Are there any other initiatives or programs we should know about that help support men’s health?
I always recommend Men’s Health Network or any credible website that focuses on the issues men face. Men’s health is more than low-testoterone and erectile dysfunction and I think when we see the focus of these issues on television and the other media it sends a faulty message that again is tied to the whole masculinity issue. But the man may be having erectile dysfunction (ED) because he has unmanaged hypertension, diabetes, or some other cardiovascular issue. The ED may well be a sign that a heart attack is lying in wait down the road.
Men have to stop waiting for a huge health scare to get their attention, they need to take charge of their health today!
For more information on men’s health reports and the work of Dr. Michelle Reece, visit http://www.michellereece.com/