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Taking Charge of Men’s Health

June 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

According to the most recent National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men are at least twice as likely as women to skip seeing a doctor of any kind, whether for preventive care or for an acute health need.

People avoid doctors for a variety of reasons. One major factor is financial – studies show that the lower your income, the less likely you are to set foot in a doctor’s office. Other factors also contribute, including regional accessibility, education level, and whether you have insurance, but the difference that gender makes is striking. In 2015, 25.2% of men reported never seeing a doctor in the past year, compared to only 12.7% of women. Men’s lower utilization of health services leads to increased health risks and lower life expectancies overall – a difference of about 5 years between men and women.

Not a priority

In 2016, Orlando Health commissioned a survey to get to the bottom of why men put off seeing a doctor. The top selected reasons were being “too busy” (22%), being “afraid of finding out what might be wrong” (21%), and “getting uncomfortable body exams” (18%). Take a look at the full survey results below. 

Copy of Orlando Health Survey Results - Men's Health 2016

Men who say they’re “too busy” to see a doctor are really saying health isn’t a priority for them. According to Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, a Men’s Health specialist at Orlando Health, “Men can spend 3­4 hours golfing or watching a ball game every week, or find the time to take a trip to Vegas with their buddies, but they can’t spare 90 minutes a year to get a check-up? That’s inexcusable.” We know that men can make time to do the things they love – they’re willing to take time off work for a trip out of town or rearrange their schedule for their kid’s football game. So the issue isn’t time, it’s how they prioritize.

Medical anxieties

The remaining barriers for men pursuing healthcare reveal a combination of fear, physical and emotional discomfort, and shame. These emotions likely stem from society’s messages about what it means to be a man. Real men are strong, totally in control, and they don’t share intimate details with just anyone.

For instance, the media shows that asking for help is a sign of weakness, including asking a doctor about his health. Similarly, the fear of what could be wrong reveals a deeper fear about not being fully in control of his health. And the discomfort with personal questions, nakedness, and physical exams seems related to messages about men hiding emotions and avoiding emotional intimacy with strangers.

Because of this, men’s anxieties about going to the doctor are reinforced by traditional ideas about masculinity – an idea backed by research conducted at Rutgers University in 2016.

AAFP Survey Results Horizontal - Men's Health 2016 (3)Men know better

A 2016 survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) suggests that men most commonly avoid the doctor because they don’t feel like they have a reason to go. 31% of male respondents reported they only go to the doctor if they are “extremely sick,” and 21% stated they are healthy and have “no reason to go to a doctor.” See the full survey results on the right.

Based on these responses, these men are thinking of doctors as a way to react to sudden or severe illness instead of seeing them as a way to prevent sickness or chronic conditions. But as AAFP points out, not feeling sick is not the same as being healthy, and men may not be as healthy as they think they are.

How to talk to your man about his health

The first step to talking to anyone about their health is listening – you have to understand where he’s coming from if you want to help him take his health seriously. Statistics can give you an idea of what may keep him away from the doctor, but only direct conversation can help you understand your man.

Once you’ve taken the time to put yourself in his shoes, work with him to unblock his personal barrier to health care. Be supportive as you develop a plan together: he’ll respond better to forming a team than to being told what to do. Tell him that you understand how he feels and don’t downplay his emotions. Being supportive means creating a safe space where he knows that his thoughts and knowledge of his own health are valid.

Consider each of his concerns carefully, and create a plan to address each one. If his concern is financial, develop a budget that includes money for healthcare. If it’s anxiety or fear, help him understand what to expect by researching online or calling local health centers. You could even offer to go with him to his appointment, which could make him more comfortable while showing him how important his health is to you.

Encourage men to take charge

If he simply doesn’t think his health is important, the best thing you can do is find out why. Does he prefer to spend his time or money supporting his family or friends? You could emphasize that he can’t support others unless he’s able to care for himself. True men take charge of their own health.

Or you could take the more factual route, and educate him on the importance of preventive care for men. Share some statistics. Maybe he isn’t aware that the top two causes of death for men are heart disease (24.5%) and cancer (23.4%). Maybe he doesn’t know that an estimated 1 in 263 men will develop testicular cancer and 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

While he may not be able to prevent getting cancer, he CAN help to prevent a negative health outcome by receiving regular men’s wellness exams. Regular preventive care visits to your local health center or clinic are crucial in identifying and treating such conditions early on – before they become life-threatening.


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