Monday marked the start of #MensHealthWeek  so are WE as a nation doing enough to help men look after their health?!  We know when it comes to health, men are less likely to talk to each other about their concerns and are less likely to visit their GP so here are some, perhaps surprising, facts about men…

  • In Scotland 1 in 4 men (1 in 5 in the UK) dies before the age of 65 (and are more likely than women to die prematurely).1
  • Scottish life expectancy for men is 77.1 years and 81.1 years for women (2014),2 or in another way, on average men are living two hours fewer per day compared to women!1,3
  • Men have a higher risk of getting cancer than women.4
  • Men are less likely to survive cancer compared to women,5 with UK data showing that for cancers shared by both men and women, men are 67% more likely to die.6
  • Around 30% of male deaths are attributable to cancer.5,7

So why do men fare less well compared to women? Let’s think about one example, colorectal cancer, which is a major public health problem in Scotland and the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. However, it is also one of the cancers where there is good evidence that in many cases it can be prevented and it has a high success rate when detected at an early stage. Men are at an increased risk of the disease and also have poorer survival. Despite these statistics men are much less likely to take up the invitation for bowel cancer screening, a biennial national programme which is offered to both men and women once they turn 50 (uptake 52.8% men and 59.1% women), and is even lower in men from poorer backgrounds (40.7%).8 Why do we think this is?

It is estimated that 4 in 10 cancers can be prevented largely through making changes to our lifestyle, for example, by not smoking, keeping a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet.9 SO how do men do when it comes to preventative behaviours? Well, we know that men are more likely…

  • to be overweight (BMI >25) and carry dangerous excess fat around the waist,10 but only make up one in ten patients attending commercial weight loss programmes and are under-represented in weight loss trials.
  • to smoke and drink.
  • to consume red and processed meats and are less aware of the link between the consumption of these meats and the increased risk of colorectal cancer.11

SO is there any good news?

Well yes, some… Men are much more likely to be physically active compared to women, although activity levels do decrease with age. Men actually DO go to see their GP just as much as women – but only after they retire, and a further example to show that men ARE interested in looking after their health is demonstrated by abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening, which sees 84% of men attending clinic for a one off screen when they turn 65.12

SO what can we learn from this and how can we help to address the gender gap when it comes to men’s health? We need better, more innovative ways to engage men and communicate both health and cancer prevention messages. Where do men currently receive health information if they don’t talk to each other and only attend their GP once they’ve retired?  Do men need their own equivalent of ‘Women’s Own’? Perhaps we can also learn from the recent movement in Men’s Sheds that are spreading out across Scotland, set up to provide men with a place to pursue practical interests and build social connections, where they are free to pop in for a cup of tea and a chat and spend time in the workshop.13

The key and recurring phrase we hear is “Men don’t talk face to face. They talk shoulder to shoulder”.