Men’s Health Gap

In most parts of the world, health outcomes among boys and men are substantially worse than those for girls and women. A Global Burden of Disease study led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in 2010 showed that throughout the period from 1970 to 2010, women had a longer life expectancy than men. [1] Over that 40-year period, female life expectancy at birth increased from 61.2 to 73.3 years, whereas male life expectancy rose from 56.4 to 67.5 years. These figures show that the gap in life expectancy at birth widened to men’s disadvantage over those 40 years.

These poorer survival rates have been attributed to several factors, including “greater levels of occupational exposure to physical and chemical hazards, behaviours associated with male norms of risk-taking and adventure, health behaviour paradigms related to masculinity and the fact that men are less likely to visit a doctor when they are ill and, when they see a doctor, are less likely to report on the symptoms of disease or illness.” [2]

However, this gender disparity has received little national, regional, or global acknowledgement, and is further compounded by stereotypes. An article published to the National Library of Medicine noted “health programs often view men mainly as oppressors – self-centred, disinterested, or violent – instead of as complex subjects whose behaviours are influenced by gender and sexual norms”. [3]

An article posted to Sussex research Online outlined three ways to challenge this “men’s health gap”. [4] Firstly, stereotypes about masculinity should be challenged in schools. Secondly, men’s health and wellbeing should be promoted in the workplace. Finally, special attention should be paid to health services and health promotion towards marginalized men, men from minority populations, men in prison populations and men who have sex with men. This is because these men all have a higher burden of disease and early death than other men.

In recent years, three types of intervention have emerged that have proven to be successful. These interventions are outreach, partnership, and gender transformation.

Outreach efforts in high-income countries like Australia, Europe, and countries in Western Europe have been generally aimed at men in pubs and bars, sports clubs, barber shops, schools and the workplace. These typically focus on weight loss, stopping smoking, and other lifestyle changes.

Partnership involves partnering with men to improve women’s and children’s health. A study done in Ghana found that when fathers are included in decisions about their children's use of preventive health services, timely immunization coverage levels may increase. [5] Similarly, many benefits have been identified in engaging male partners in in decisions about reproductive and sexual health, including family planning. [6]

Gender transformation aims to reshape male gender roles in ways that lead to more equitable relationships between women and men. Gender transformation can increase protective sexual behaviours, prevent intimate partner violence, modify inequitable attitudes linked to gender, and reduce sexually transmitted infections. [7]

It’s time to close the gap.