Guys and health

If the movies, TV and popular magazines are to be believed, the most important health issues for men consist of: receding hairlines, sex, heart health, sex, fitness, sex, sex, prostate health and sex.

Perhaps these all have some basis in fact. But real men’s health is considerably more nuanced than the many stereotypes would suggest.

In honor of Men’s Health Week this week, let’s take a closer look at men and their health:

- Most adult American men are healthy, or at least view themselves as healthy. According to the National Health Interview Survey for 2009, only 12 percent of the men 18 and older who were interviewed reported their health as fair or poor.

- The leading causes of death for American men, in descending order, are heart disease, cancer and accidents/unintentional injuries. (For women it’s heart disease, cancer and stroke; injury is sixth on the list.)

- Men have a lower life expectancy than women.

- Men are more likely than women to drink excessively. They’re more likely to binge-drink and more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. They also have higher rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations and deaths than women.

- Although it’s often thought women are more likely to have depression, men can be depressed too – and when they are, it frequently goes undiagnosed. This is partly because men might ignore their depression or refuse treatment. Depression also can be harder to recognize among men because it manifests itself differently than among women. It can take the form of anger; aggressive or risky behavior such as reckless driving; alcohol or substance abuse; infidelity; and escapist behavior such as spending long hours at work or in sports.

- Men are underrepresented in the doctor’s waiting room. According to CDC statistics, about 20 percent of men don’t see a doctor at all; the comparable figure for women is 10-12 percent. Many men, especially young men, may be missing out on opportunities to assess their health and lower some of the risks they face.

- Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed among men but there’s often confusion about when they should be screened. The recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: There’s insufficient evidence on the benefits vs. the harms of routine screening for prostate cancer, and screening isn’t recommended for men older than 75. The American Cancer Society echoes these guidelines. The advice from the ACS: Men should talk to their doctor and make an individual decision on whether to be tested.

Health care traditionally has been male-oriented, leading to some significant gender imbalances in what we know about health, sickness and wellness. But just as women haven’t always received a good deal when it comes to understanding their health, men haven’t always gotten a good deal either. Getting past the stereotypes is a constructive way to start making this better.

Photo: Scott Bakula, Ray Romano and Andre Braugher in “Men of a Certain Age.” Photo courtesy of TNT.

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