Examining Men’s Health Inequities
By Sheryl Markowitz, Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations, Healthfirst
In the U.S., the third Sunday each June is Father’s Day, a time to celebrate the dads and father figures in our lives. But Congress extended the celebration in 1994, dubbing the week leading up to Father’s Day as Men’s Health Week — a time to bring awareness to preventable health issues among men and boys.
As I look closely at men’s health statistics, quite a few things jump off the page.
Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death for men in the U.S. In fact, out of 100 men in America, 13 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives — and the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 34,700 deaths from prostate cancer in 2023.
The CDC also reports that men died at a higher rate than women due to COVID-19 and are more likely than women to die by suicide — despite the prevalence of mental illnesses being lower in men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
If we dig for a reason for these inequities, low engagement with the healthcare system may be one culprit. A recent survey found that most men (65%) not only believe they are naturally healthier than others in general, but that 33% believed they don’t need annual health screenings.
That may be because of what our culture provides to men as definitions of success and strength. “Strong beliefs, norms, attitudes, and stereotypes of masculinity are prevalent and harmful for men’s health,” according to an article published in The Lancet. These stereotypes may lead to men trying to tough out an illness and prevent seeking care, or internalizing emotions that can lead to higher rates of drug and alcohol use.
Access to care is also a concern. Men are more likely than women to be uninsured, making it more difficult to seek out necessary preventive and acute care.
As an industry, we need to make changes to the delivery system that often fails men, particularly men of color. Some opportunities include:
1. Offering group counseling sessions to men to help address social isolation and uncover shared experiences.
2. Marketing meaningful health information to men in communities that may resonate.
3. Getting creative in how men can access preventive care, such as clinics held at sports games or offering screenings and treatments at barber shops.
Finally, we need materials to educate boys and young men about the journey to health so they can grow up with better well-being and less stigma about getting the care they need to stay healthy for years to come.