Successive New Zealand governments have failed to develop a policy or strategy focused on men’s health that falls behind countries such as Mongolia, Australia, Ireland, Iran, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil and the state of Quebec. .
The consequences of this failure for New Zealand men are dire, with research showing that men lag behind women in terms of access to health care, diagnoses and overall life expectancy.
The picture is even darker for men of the Maori and Pacific.
This week is Men’s Health Week – a good time to consider how New Zealand men can be better served by a targeted health policy and how it can benefit the country as a whole.
Male inequalities in health
In New Zealand, there are significant differences in poor health and life expectancy between men and women, between men of different ethnicities and those who are gender diverse.
Women live four years longer than men, and for men between 50 and 75 years the mortality rate is 30% higher than for women. The life expectancy for Māori and Pacific men is between seven and five years less than other men.
In addition, men are more likely to live with an illness or injury and die prematurely as a result.
These health inequalities were highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with men contracting COVID at higher rates, experiencing worse symptoms and more likely to die.
In New Zealand, there is also a large difference between male and female deaths due to suicide. In 2018, 446 men died by suicide, compared to 177 women.
For men, this grim statistic is not just youth-related – older men are also at high risk. And men with disabilities report higher rates of suicidal thoughts than non-disabled men.
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Gender-diverse research is in its infancy, but recent research shows that trans men are more likely to report psychological distress than trans women.
However, biological sex differences alone cannot explain men’s higher risk of premature death and poorer overall health status. These outcomes are indisputably linked to cultural and socio-economic factors.
What prevents men from going to the doctor?
Many men are reluctant to seek care and support from the health care system, probably because it is not structured around their needs.
Primary care services are generally only open when men are at work, and the feminine atmosphere of many waiting areas reinforces the perspective that health is women’s job.
In general, men only think about their health when a problem prevents them from undertaking an important practical aspect of their lives – whether it is sports, playing with their children or doing their jobs.
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Consequently, they are unlikely to seek help unless their functional capacity is impaired.
Ultimately, this means that men seek help for health problems much later, leading to higher levels of potentially preventable health issues, reduced treatment options and greater use of more expensive hospital services.
Unfortunately, men also run a greater risk of being fatally injured by their profession. Between 2005-2014, 955 workers were fatally injured, of which 89% were men.
Unfortunately, men’s lifestyle choices, including smoking, poor diet, unsafe alcohol consumption, and the abuse of other drugs, often have negative consequences for their health and well-being. Although these lifestyle behaviors can be linked to perceptions of what it means to be a man, these choices are largely changeable.
An effective men’s health policy will explicitly recognize that health promotion programs must be designed specifically for men.
Where policies can help
Worldwide, there are a number of gender-specific health-promoting programs that have proven their usefulness with respect to men’s health.
The Rugby Fans in Training healthy lifestyle program has led to changes in men’s physical activity levels and diet, leading to weight loss.
The men-focused Farmers Have Hearts cardiovascular health program in Ireland has led to improved outcomes for farmers, with more than 80% succeeding in some form of lifestyle behavior change.
Research on the “Men’s Shed” movement has shown its ability to promote a sense of community, nurture a sense of belonging and reduce the negative health impacts of loneliness.
While some successful initiatives and programs targeting men are currently based in New Zealand, a coherent approach is lacking despite increasing national and international evidence that gender-specific initiatives are effective.
Focus on men’s health does not have to come at the expense of women’s health initiatives and it is commendable that the government has committed itself to a women’s health strategy as part of the Pae Ora (Health Future) Bill.
However, men’s health should not be forgotten.
The government must also implement a men’s health policy that facilitates a coherent, equitable approach, enabling men to improve their lives, not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of their families, communities and society as a whole. a whole.