On average, men die five years younger than women—and in greater numbers from nine of the top 10 causes of death. Men suffer the majority of workplace injuries, are less likely than women to be insured, and are far less likely to see a doctor for preventive care. All of this impacts their ability to be involved fathers, supportive husbands, and engaged members of their community.
The health and well-being of boys and men directly affects the health and well-being of girls and women. That’s why, every June, hundreds of private businesses, government agencies, churches, fraternities, and other organizations around the country celebrate Men’s Health Month by hosting health screenings, health fairs, and other awareness and outreach activities.
It all started in 1994, when Congress passed a bill declaring the week leading up to Father’s Day (this year it’s June 19) as “Men’s Health Week” (MHW). MHW was created to raise awareness of the global crisis in men’s health, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law, urging “…health care professionals, private industry, community groups, insurance companies, and all other interested organizations and individual citizens to unite to publicly reaffirm our Nation’s continuing commitment to men’s health.”
Over the years, Men’s Health Month has grown into a global phenomenon, heightening the awareness of preventable health problems and encouraging early detection and treatment of disease among boys and men. Every year, dozens of governors, mayors, and other government and community leaders issue proclamations recognizing the importance of men’s health and honoring this special awareness period.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But the big question is this: So what?—have all of these efforts to increase awareness of men’s health actually done anything? The answer is a resounding Yes! Growing awareness among policymakers and others that boys’ and men’s health is worthy of attention have made a big difference. In 1994, the life-expectancy gender gap was 6.6 years (72.4 years for men, 79 years for women). Today, as mentioned above, it’s less than five years. That’s a big improvement in just over twenty years.
So what’s working? Federal, state, and local initiatives around the country have definitely helped, including male health outreach programs like the ones in Oakland, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Cambridge, MA, and Cleveland, OH. Wear Blue days (similar to wear pink days that support breast cancer research) have been widely adopted throughout federal health agencies and by many major medical associations. And there’s now an Office of Indian Men’s Health within the Indian Health Service (although President Obama has yet to appoint a head).
Among the most important initiatives was the first-ever White House Dialogue on Men’s Health, which took place in January of this year. This event, organized with the help of Men’s Health Network (MHN), brought together researchers, individuals, policymakers, and organizations from around the country to share best practices for improving the state of men’s physical and mental health.
One of the biggest challenges in men’s health today is how to reach young men, many of whom get most of their news and information and communicate with each other on their mobile phones. The answer is to use technology to reach them where they are. For example, MHN has partnered with the National Healthy Start Foundation, the national Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and others to develop texting- and app-based programs that deliver informative, actionable health messages designed to help young men take on a more active role in their own health and the health of their children, and to give them the tools and knowledge they need to be actively involved fathers. We’re still gathering data about the success of these programs, but feedback thus far has been extremely positive.
Despite these successes, men’s health still has a long way to go—and you can help. Thousands of people are already participating in their own events for the month and there are many ways to do that. One way to show your support is to wear blue on Friday June 17. If you’re on social media, take photos of you, your coworkers, family, pets, etc wearing blue and use the #ShowUsYourBlue hashtag so we can follow and promote your message. We encourage people to post who they wear blue for, dads, brothers, husbands, friends, etc. Because digital media is so important, MHN has created a social media toolkit with sample Twitter and Facebook posts, along with pictures, online at: www.MensHealthMonth.org/mens-
By Ana Fadich, MPH, CHES, Vice President, Men’s Health Network