As our country grapples with COVID-19, another widespread public healthcare crisis grows unabated: the poor state of men’s health in America. The statistics are as stunningly clear as the COVID-19 graphs displayed daily on television – U.S. men die an average of five years younger than women; and lead in 9 out of the top 10 causes of death. Men also have a greater risk for death in every age group and have higher suicide death rates than women.
Men also account for 92 percent of all fatal workplace injuries. Tennessee data shows men living 5.6 years less than women and surpassing the national rates for cardiovascular disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, respiratory disease, diabetes and suicide.
Why is there such a big gender gap? According to a study reported by the Commonwealth Fund in 2000, a major contributing factor is that men do not have access to or regularly see healthcare providers. Men make only one half the preventive healthcare visits women do, and 23.9 percent of men do not have a regular source of healthcare (as compared to 11.8 percent of women).
In Tennessee, men are more likely than women to be uninsured. Lifestyle and substance-related factors also contribute to the disparity, with men more likely to abuse alcohol, use tobacco products and illicit drugs, and be overweight as compared to women. A 2007 research paper in Social Science & Medicine suggested that men may conform to traditional masculine ideas which promote risk-taking behaviors and stoicism regarding healthcare issues that can delay timely care.
What can be done to improve men’s health in the U.S.? Congress declared June to be Men’s Health Month, and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion encourages men to “get a physical” and “get physical!” Men should establish a relationship with a primary care provider and undergo a comprehensive health evaluation to obtain baselines for weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer screening, and to treat tobacco and alcohol use issues. Early detection can avert potentially life-threatening conditions. Regular physical exercise and a healthy diet can help control weight, blood pressure, and avoid diabetes.
As with COVID-19, education and prevention are key to defeating a public health crisis. During Men’s Health Month, we encourage U.S. men to improve their lifestyles and have regular check-ups with a healthcare provider. These actions can close the gender gap and help men to live longer, healthier lives.
June is National Men’s Health Month. Dr. Wandass is a primary care physician that specializes in men’s health at Gallatin Family Wellness. For more information or for an appointment, call 615-328-3750.