Men’s Health and the Elephant in the Room

Name one thing that men are more uncomfortable discussing than their feelings. Anything but feelings. You’ve probably heard the line: “Men have feelings too. For instance, sometimes we feel hungry.” But alas, there is something that men may talk about even less than their feelings.

How Ya’ Doin’?

The esteemed Cleveland Clinic recently reported on a telephone survey of 502 adult men conducted to determine if men discuss health issues with other men. Do they share cholesterol levels with their best buddies?
The survey found that men were 4 to 5 times more likely to talk about current events, sports, or their jobs, than their health. Only 7% of men discuss health issues with their friends.

Sneaking Suspicion

Now my experience with men is that unless it hurts or is life threatening, health issues may never cross their radar. I first learned this when we published on how large a benign scrotal mass called a spermatocele grows to before men seek care for it (answer: the size of a testicle!). Also, the delay in the self-diagnosis of testis cancer among young men is well known. The Cleveland Clinic survey merely confirms these suspicions:

  • 40% of adult men don’t get annual checkups
  • Two in five men (42%) go to the doctor when they fear they have a serious illness.
  • 19% of men admit to going to the doctor to stop a loved one from nagging.

So what is the elephant in the room when it comes to improving men’s health? Well, it’s men themselves. So how can we help? To answer this, I take inspiration from our White House meeting earlier this year:

  • Ask them to do it for you (a loved one)
  • Make it an honorable, gentlemanly thing to do to take good care of himself.
  • We should consider ways to bring health care to men instead of vice versa.
  • Use cell phones to meet men where they are and to tell them where they should go and what they should do.
  • Soften and demystify the language of medicine. Make it more user friendly.
  • Engage the families of men to better engage men.
  • Use humor to change behavior.
  • Provide role models for health and fitness, such as sports idols.
  • Promote the “e-patient” concept in healthcare: educated, equipped and empowered consumers.

It’s pretty clear to me that it will take a village to effect a sea change in the way men approach their health. Let’s start now.