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OPINION

Why are men notoriously difficult to engage in their health and wellbeing?

  • 48 Comments

Men apparently don’t do enough to look after their health. Why?

Did you know? It’s men’s health week. Apparently 40% of men die before they reach 75 because they don’t do enough to look after themselves.

There are a lot of stats showing how men can fail to take notice of their health and wellbeing. Men visit their GP half as often as women. Men are less likely than women to have received treatment for mental health problems. And 22% of men in England and Wales die before they reach 64 compared with 13% of women.

So the big question is, why? Is it because men feel less comfortable admitting to illness, and so think they should battle on without help? Do they feel it is a sign of weakness to visit their GP?

Is it because men struggle more with being ‘told what to do’ compared with women? Or is it because men ignore and don’t want to think about the risks? I’m sure it’s not because they don’t care.

I know it took a heart attack to make my dad reconsider his lifestyle. It shocked him into action. And now he eats healthily, visits the gym, cycles and has lost the paunch too. I bought him a Mr Motivator DVD for Christmas. He liked it. But then again, I don’t know how much of this is due to the influence of my mum. Or maybe I should give him more credit.

So why are men notoriously difficult to engage with their health and wellbeing? Maybe it is because there is no immediate motivator. Women are pressured to adhere to a beautiful, slim template – which can be achieved through a healthy lifestyle. Men, not so much.

What will make men engage with looking after their health? Increased promotion of the risks? One idea, tried out by the Men’s Health Forum, is to attempt to make men engage with their health online rather than face-to-face. Maybe it will work, 37% of men used the internet for health information in 2009, more than the 31% who used it in 2008.

What do you think? What’s your experience? Does it match the stats?

  • 48 Comments

Readers' comments (48)

  • i think online is a good way to do it, fancy technology is a good way to get interest

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  • First of all there needs to be a clarification on 'they don’t do enough to look after themselves', as this can be the case for both genders and many many people live extremely poor lifestyles health wise. If we are talking about accessing health services, that is a slightly different issue.

    I do not agree with the articles assertion that there is 'no immediate motivator'. "Women are pressured to adhere to a beautiful, slim template – which can be achieved through a healthy lifestyle. Men, not so much." Men have the ideal of the muscular six pack as much as women have the media ideal of the slim model, and both genders try for that ideal in both healthy and - far more often - unhealthy ways.

    In terms of admitting to illness or accessing health services to get a check up or advice, I do not think you can underestimate the strength of traditional masculine traits in influencing these. Pride, stoicism, strength, these are powerful words that have positive connotations in masculine identities, but can have negative effects in making men less likely to ask for help or advice, which may be seen or portrayed as being weak or less stoic or strong. It is not enough to simply tell men they must conform to a paradigm of 'asking for help' or 'talking about health or feelings', as it is often contrary to deeply held beliefs and gender identities.

    There is also an issue about where and how men could seek information from, traditionally, where could they go for information? The GPs surgery perhaps? A walk in centre? A clinic? Places that often would be the last place they would go anyway. The technology idea is a great one, the internet or mobile apps that offer information and advice is an excellent idea. But how about widening the net? Put information in places where men are likely to see it and access them? Perhaps gyms or garages or wherever. Gyms are excellently placed for working closely with the NHS, and this is an area that is not tapped into anywhere near as much as it should be in a lot of ways, and by placing information and even services within this environment could have a lot of benefits, it could even be portrayed as being a normal part of becoming more healthy, getting stronger, rather than in a negative way ie admitting to weakness.

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  • i agree, gym's holding men's health clinics sound ideal

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  • michael stone

    At the risk of a feminist backlash, I am of the opinion that men are more diverse than women in almost every aspect, and I suspect that men are usually harder to 'persuade'.

    I seem to remember reading that advertisers love youngish girls (say 10 - 14) because if they find some 18 yr old the girls 'admire', then if they can get the 18 yr old woman to wear certain clothes, etc, the younger girls 'all want to do the same'.

    Apparently, boys are a pain in the backside: admiring Rooney as a footballer, does not get boys to do much except buy a shirt with 'Rooney' on it.

    Besides, I'm male and my own position is exactly the one the NHS does not like about men: I'm either fine, and needn't be unduly bothered, or I'm so near to death that I need urgent attention.

    Final thought - might it be that women have kids, and that involves lots of contact with clinicians, which explains part of the difference ?

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  • michael stone | 17-Jun-2011 3:19 pm

    "At the risk of a feminist backlash, I am of the opinion that men are more diverse than women in almost every aspect,..."

    Do you know what Feminism is?

    Feminism is about equal opportunities for women in all areas of life e.g. social, economic, political, etc. (unfortunately, we are a long way short of this). Feminists believe in gender equality and that INCLUDES equality for men.

    The fact that 40% of men are dying before the age of 75 is a dreadful statistic. This is a very complex subject, and requires some creative thinking if it is to be tackled. The solution to improving this certainly doesn't lie in your blinkered, backward comments. Hopefully you are not a nurse. I don't think that you can be with such a display of stupidity.

    And as for,
    "Final thought - might it be that women have kids, and that involves lots of contact with clinicians, which explains part of the difference ?"

    Jeez!!!!!


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  • michael stone why do you contine to sabotage so many serious professional discussions nurses are trying to have with each other in these comments. it has now been going for some time and is frankly becoming extremely tedious and obstructive to the furthering of constructive clinical debate and discourages others from visiting the site and is wasting everybody's time.
    For your more serious issues it has been proposed that you use the forums where people have more time to debate with you and others.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 17-Jun-2011 6:35 pm




    I entirely agree with these points you made:

    Feminism is about equal opportunities for women in all areas of life e.g. social, economic, political, etc. (unfortunately, we are a long way short of this). Feminists believe in gender equality and that INCLUDES equality for men.

    The fact that 40% of men are dying before the age of 75 is a dreadful statistic. This is a very complex subject, and requires some creative thinking if it is to be tackled.

    But I am not a nurse, and I am no more blinkered than anybody else. I agree about equal opportunities. But I do not agree, that women and men are identical ! To start with, I would deny women the 'opportunity' to play rugby against men, because of their differing physiologies !


    My comment about children, is relevant: because of the degree of interaction with clinicians during pregnancy and childbirth, if a woman wishes to have children, 'interacting with clinicians' is almost impossible to avoid. This is not true, for men - it is far easier for any fairly healthy man to avoid contact with clinicians, than it is for any fairly healthy woman who also wishes to have children. My point, was that this necessary interaction, might influence how receptive many women are to 'visiting doctors' - I am not suggesting that is the only factor here (despite your obvious opinion to the contrary, I am not an idiot !) but I am suggesting it is one factor.


    And I did - even if you neglected to wonder about this - want to see if those comments would get an 'angry response' from nurses, without an explanation of why they are flawed !

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 17-Jun-2011 7:14 pm




    I originally tried a Forum question, but nurses showed their usual reluctance to answer the questions. And I have yet to find the answers to my questions, as postings to related articles (I have had very little time to look, but it seems those articles do not attract comments)


    And a 'clinical debate' is something which refers to clinical issues - for example, which antibiotic would work better, here.


    'Why do so many men avoid going to the doctor ?' is a debate which is wider than 'clinical'.


    Not everyone, agrees that my posted comments lack validity or relevance: it is becoming clear that 'mike', who can only be described as being from the 'rational branch of the militant wing' tends to agree with me. And at least one other nurse, has commented that it is refreshing to see the view from the 'other side'.


    Why do you think that non-clinicians, who are still patients and service users, do not have valid opinions about issues which affect the way they are treated ? Surely understanding the position of patients and their relatives, is part of your professional development as a nurse ? Or don't you agree ?

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  • To be fair Anonymous | 17-Jun-2011 6:35 pm, the issue of women being more likely to access places like GP surgeries, Walk in clinics, etc, than men are for a whole variety of reasons, childbirth being one of them, and therefore as a direct result much more likely to access the information held in those places, is a very important and relevant one. As I said earlier, this is a large contributing factor in the lack of men accessing healthcare information, as in the past, these places were the only places you could arguably access information or advice, and they were the very places that men were not likely to spend much time in anyway. The argument for widening the net, so to speak, in the type of places that men could access information (for example gyms, garages, etc), will make it much more likely they will engage in their own health and well being. This is true for other areas too, sexual health for example. There are many examples of health professionals going out into clubs and bars in the city centre, offering out free condoms and advice, rather than waiting for people to come to the GUM clinic to access advice, and this has increased the rates of access to health information. A slightly different area, I agree, but the principal is the same.

    And sorry to go off topic just for one paragraph, but I would question if you actually knew what feminism is yourself, feminism and many, many feminists, have long ago moved away from equality of the genders and argue for superiority of women.

    I still think however that the best way to increase men accessing health information and advice is to move away from the matriarchal paradigms of the past, to appeal to the males innate masculinity. Why should it be seen as a sign of weakness to ask for help if you are worried about a particular health issue, when it can be seen as a positive way to take charge of your own health and increase your strength, etc. A simplified example for a wide ranging issue, but it makes the point.

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  • michael stone | 18-Jun-2011 12:52 pm

    Rubbish!! I can't believe that you conclude that women are more likely to look after themselves because of exposure to clinicians during childbirth. One could argue equally that the experience of childbirth would want some women to run a mile from clinicians! And then you assume that 14 year old girls "all want to do the same" as 18 year olds. Sweeping generalisations like this ARE blinkered and backward. Nobody said that men and women are the same. But not all women are the same, and not all men are the same. That is why the reasons for men failing to engage in their well being are complex.

    If as you say, you are not a nurse, I wonder why you are on here trying to provoke an "..'angry response' from nurses..". In your reply to Anonymous | 17-Jun-2011 7:14 pm, you state, "I originally tried a Forum question, but nurses showed their usual reluctance to answer the questions. And I have yet to find the answers to my questions,..". It appears that you are known in other areas on this site and not in a positive way. From this I can only conclude that your motives are very suspect. If you are here to cause trouble, then I suggest that you buzz off and take your issues elsewhere.

    One final point. Nurses and their families are patients and service users too, and are well aware of what makes up our professional development thank you very much!

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