“You should go see a doctor.”
Every day, millions of people across our country and the world say those six words to a loved one. Sometimes this advice is well received; other times, it is taken as an annoying admonition, something to put off until a later date.
Unfortunately, the men in our lives ignore this advice far too often, costing them their health and their lives. Our nation’s fathers, husbands, uncles, grandfathers and sons miss out on care that could improve their quality of life and catch conditions when they are easiest to treat.
From our own families’ experiences and our professional work, we can attest to the importance of raising awareness and promoting policies specific to women’s health issues, because women’s health is family health. We must have the same understanding of men’s health concerns, because men’s health is family health, too.
We need our federal programs and policies to reflect the goal of improving the health of both women and men.
The establishment of the Office of Women’s Health (OWH) in 1991 was a watershed moment that resulted in much-needed advances in our nation’s approach to women’s health research, awareness, education and care.
Given the widening life expectancy gap between men and women, it seems appropriate to use this successful model to create an Office for Men’s Health. Such a proposal is especially timely considering June marks Men’s Health Month, calling for greater national awareness of healthcare issues and challenges facing men.
An Office for Men’s Health would establish a single, coordinated effort within our government devoted to education, awareness and screening programs to improve the health of men in our country. The office would utilize resources within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate services with other federal agencies, state and local health departments and community organizations. It would also partner with the private sector on various initiatives.
The lack of attention to men’s health issues manifests in the dire statistics. Men’s life expectancy is five years shorter than women’s. Men lead in nine of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. The cancer mortality rate is higher among men than among women, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the U.S. among men, and more than 90% of cases are in men aged fifty-five and older. In 2017, costs associated with prostate cancer detection and treatment were $14.8 billion. They are expected to rise in the coming years. According to the 2017 National Diabetes Statistics Report, about 15.3 million men have diabetes, more than half of all American adults with diabetes. Of that number, one-third of men are unaware they have it. They are also more likely to die from the disease.
Breaking these health statistics down further by race and ethnicity reveals higher risk factors and very troubling numbers for men in minority communities. African American men are twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as Caucasian men, and they have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease. Alaska Native and Native American men have lower life expectancies and higher rates of death in many categories than all other groups in the U.S.
Men also face health challenges that require different intervention and solutions.
Societal attitudes teach men and boys that seeking out medical care is a sign of weakness, often leading men to put off or ignore preventative care. Risk-taking at younger ages and other cultural attitudes that discourage healthy behavior can feed into unhealthy habits such as poor diet and alcohol or substance abuse. This means that men are also less likely to seek help for mental health issues. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men are four times more likely to commit suicide, and the suicide rate is highest among middle-aged men.
An Office for Men’s Health can spearhead education and awareness campaigns to help change the dialogue on men’s health and encourage men to invest in their personal well-being. OWH has had an incredibly positive impact on women’s health and provides a terrific model to emulate. OWH was heavily involved in breast cancer screening awareness efforts, and from 1989 to 2015, death rates from female breast cancer dropped 39%. The American Cancer Society believes some of this is attributable to increased awareness, screenings for early detection and better treatments over time. We would love to see this success replicated for our sons, nephews, grandsons, uncles and great-uncles while maintaining our commitment to women’s health and the OWH.
Caring for the nation’s men and women in ways that address gender-specific issues is good policy and ensures that families are supported. This is not an either-or situation—women play an essential role in the health and well-being of the men in their lives and vice versa.
The creation of an Office for Men’s Health has the support of a broad array of patient, provider and public health organizations.
Making our nation’s men healthier is not a partisan issue. As such, we urge Congress to establish an Office for Men’s Health so that we can move forward with the necessary research. An Office for Men’s Health will help men live longer and healthier lives—and that is good for everyone’s health.
Philip Gingrey, M.D., is a former U.S. congressman who served Georgia’s 11th Congressional District from 2003 to 2015 and is currently a senior adviser for the District Policy Group at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Ilisa Halpern Paul, MPP, is president of the District Policy Group.