CONTRA COSTA TIMES: JUNE 17, 2011
National Men’s Health Week is June 13-19. If only there were more to celebrate.
Consider the facts: Men die more than five years younger than women; Men are at greater risk of getting a serious disease or life-threatening injury; Men are fatter than women, use more tobacco, make fewer doctor visits and have less healthy diets.
So what’s the good news? “Nearly all of these key factors can be modified or controlled,” says men’s health expert Dr. Will Courtenay.
The Montclair author, Oakland psychotherapist and renowned researcher has just written a book called “Dying To Be Men,” in which he outlines the reasons men are at risk and what can be done about it.
“First of all, there’s a cultural bent that men and boys don’t hurt, aren’t in pain and don’t get sad — that they’re the stronger sex,” Courtenay says. “Even as infants, adults misperceive boys as being less vulnerable than girls.” He says boys are handled more roughly, exposed to more parent aggression (something daughters are often protected against), held less and left alone more. Society says boys shouldn’t be coddled and so parents talk less with boys about emotions.
Then there’s the influence of the media. As boys grow up, the messages they get on TV, movies and in video games is that risk-taking is macho.
“The brother and sister sit down and watch TV together,” says Courtenay. “The boys will switch over to the sports channel. Boys and men are going to be showneating junk food, using tobacco and drinking.” He says these ads tend to link masculinity and often prey on boys’ insecurities of not being manly enough. “Unless you do that, or drink this beer, you’re going to be the wimp who’s left out of the game.” Even more alarming, Courtenay points to a recent surge in media that glorifies risk-taking behavior. “Risky sports, driving, binge drinking — there’s good research to show a link between viewing this and going out and doing these things,” he says.
From sun protection to sex, Courtenay says when you think you’re less vulnerable to risk, you don’t take precautions with your health. So it’s all of these behaviors that contribute to the fact that men die more than five years younger than women. “Society has accepted it as natural,” he says. “But it’s not natural. Men can live just as long if they become more like women in the way they think about their health.” Here is his six-point HEALTH plan:
- Humanize: Communicate to men and boys that it is human to ask for help because they grow up thinking they shouldn’t need or ask for it.
- Educate: They’re less knowledgeable about health, so help the men and boys in your family to understand their specific health risks.
- Assume the worst: Don’t let men minimize or hide their symptoms. Men are much more likely than women to delay treatment.
- Locate support: Social support is strongly linked to health and longevity and men tend to have fewer friendships and smaller social networks than women.
- Tailor a plan: Having a health plan can improve a person’s chances of living longer. Men are more likely to have a maintenance plan for their cars or computers than their bodies.
- Harness strength: Many men emphasize a teamwork approach. Think of doctors as teammates and health statistics as scores.For more information on men’s health issues, go to www.DyingToBeMen.com.