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June 28, 2024

More attention must be given to improving men's health in America

Men are at increased risk for many medical conditions, including heart attacks and strokes. Governmental initiatives need to better address gender disparities, but greater personal commitments are needed, too.

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Man Lifting Weights Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

For 32 years, Men's Health Month has encouraged men to take basic steps to improve their health, but the state of men's health has not materially advanced over the campaign.

Did anyone notice that June was Men's Health Month? 

It's a time when advocates like me leverage Father's Day to focus on the health and well-being of men. Over the past 32 years, it has become an international call to action in which proponents highlight the gap between the health of men and women, encourage men to take basic steps to improve their health, and emphasize how neanderthal views on masculinity diminish the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Sadly, by most objective measures, the state of men's health has not materially advanced over the three decades of this campaign. By all appearances, it looks like men are perpetually locked in second place when it comes to their health and well-being.

Little attention paid to men's health

A great example of male status in the health space can be found at the epicenter of U.S. health policy, the federal government's Healthy People 2030 initiative, a set of national objectives designed to improve health and well-being over the current decade. A commentary published in the journal Health, Education and Behavior zeros-in on the perceived inequities in the national objectives and priorities that shape efforts on improving the health of Americans:

"Of the 355 total objectives in Healthy People 2030, there are thirty objectives that explicitly mention women, females, or maternal health, but only four objectives that specifically mention males or men: one regarding prostate cancer, one regarding family planning, and two regarding sexually transmitted infections. Thus, with the exception of prostate cancer, none of the four objectives presented in Healthy People 2030 align with the five leading causes of death for men: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries (e.g., motor vehicle accidents, drowning, falls, and poisoning [e.g., drug overdoses]), chronic lower respiratory diseases (mainly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and stroke."

With respect to these four objectives, the Healthy People website notes that there has been "little or no detectable changes" for any of them.

The lack of attention to men is evident in studies that measure the state of men's health in America.

Last fall, the Cleveland Clinic published the results of its MENtion It survey, which provided a deeper look into the physical and mental dimensions which plague men in America – a topic I explored last year. The survey found that 81% of American men claim they lead a healthy lifestyle but 44% do not get an annual physical, 44% do not take care of their mental health and barely half maintain a healthy diet. Additional findings that speak to a man's priorities show that 27% watch TV for more than five hours per day and spend at least two hours a day on social media.

A lack of national coordination

The reports of other federal agencies coupled with the findings of academic medical centers like the Cleveland Clinic raise further questions as to why there are so few male-oriented objectives in Healthy People 2030 when these agencies coexist within the federal system, and the academic studies are so accessible. For example, a website operated by the U.S. General Services Administration entitled "Improving men's health" reports that "men are at an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes" and that "men die by suicide nearly four times as often as women."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website contains a substantial inventory of men's health statistics that collectively paint a poor picture of health. Among the measures is that less than 30% of men 18 and over meet federal guidelines for physical activity. Almost 42% of men over 20 are obese. And over 50% of men over 18 have hypertension.

Finally, it is important to note that legislative efforts to focus attention on men's health have also fallen short. The Men's Health Awareness and Improvement Act was introduced in June 2023 by the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, D-New Jersey. The bill documents a number of male health problems and calls for the creation of an Office of Men's Health modeled on the Office of Women's Health, which was created in 1991. The bill has gone nowhere and Payne, a long-time proponent for men's health, died on April 24th.

With multiple federal agencies, academic medical centers and Congress all reporting on a litany of serious men's health problems, you would think that Men's Health Month would have medical and policy leaders speaking proudly about advancements in the campaign, but the 30-plus year effort continues without meaningful change. Not a cause for celebration, but certainly not a reason to give up. These are our lives we're talking about!

The case for personal commitment

My advocacy for men's health is anchored by a "tough love" approach, and this year the message was particularly tough. The work to advance men's health in America and around the world is incredible, but the results are, quite frankly, dismal. But here's the catch, a man's health is personal, as personal as it gets. Government initiatives are helpful and academic studies are insightful, but a man's behavior is all his own.

To prove that it's possible, I've shared the stories of men who have stepped up and exhibited healthy behaviors. They included Troy Singleton, the New Jersey state lawmaker who dropped 50 pounds and looks like a stud; Dave Spadaro, the 58-year old Eagles insider who overcame personal health challenges and now exercises regularly and eats right, and Eagles lineman Lane Johnson, who had the courage to go public about his struggles with depression. Guys are doing it. They are finding the fire in their bellies, or maybe their souls, to overcome all the odds represented in the studies.

Don't get me wrong, the annual pep rally known as Men's Health Month is a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. However, a look in the mirror of life and a glance at the people you love also can trigger change in that one most important life — yours. And that's a change you can proudly celebrate.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

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