Can Your Fertility Save Your Life?

I know, it’s an improbable and largely rhetorical title for a lecture. But it was Nerd Nite SF, and they asked me to talk about something provocative and daring in medicine. Fertility as a tool to measure health.

Smacked and Smashed

The bar was packed with hundreds of San Francisco tech titans, gamers, developers and programmers, as well as the usual bikers, artists and other bohemians, the perfect demographic to hear about biomarkers for men’s health. And, since beer was being served, I thought I had a real chance to sneak some juicy concepts into loosened minds.
I began by reading them the riot act of ugly facts surrounding young men’s health in America:

  • Men don’t live nearly as long as women, about 5 years less.
  • There is a higher risk of death in men than women at all ages.
  • 1/3 of adult men do not see a doctor regularly. True in <1/10 women.
  • The gender gap in healthcare is highest at ages 18-29 years, and persists until age 65 years.
  • The highest income earning men have mortality rates equal to the poorest women.

And then I kept going:

  • Almost half of all men go to the doctor when fearing they have a serious illness.
  • 1/5 men admit to seeing a doctor to stop a loved one from nagging them.
  • Only 7% of men discuss health issues with friends.
  • Men are 5 times more likely to talk about current events, sports or jobs rather than health

Back at You

There were nervous chortles from the audience as I rattled off these health snippets. When I finished, there was silence except for distant Janice Joplin music playing somewhere outside the bar. I lightened the mood by discussing the science that shows that a man’s fertility potential might actually be a good indicator of not only current health, but also future health. And I ended with: “Guys, I think we’ve got your number!”
It was the Q & A session that changed everything for me, though. A man down in front holding a draft of wheat beer calmly asked, “So, what do we do now?”

Back at Us

And then it hit me. They get it. Men are willing to dig in and make the effort to get care earlier and more often than they do now. But does the current healthcare system know exactly what their needs are and how to precisely and efficiently capitalize on the rare appearances of young men seeking care? Honestly, I am not convinced that we do on the scale that it needs to be done.
I left the bar that night knowing full well that the onus of giving men the care that they need to live better and longer lives falls upon us as care providers as much as it does on patients. Back at us, doctors! The charge is clear now.