Why experts say men are the weaker sex

Doug Devaney, who had an angina attack, avoided visiting a doctor as he "didn't want to be a fuss"

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When it comes to health, men really are the weaker sex and this is an imbalance that needs redressing, say experts.

Men are more likely to get cancer than women and are also more likely to die from it.

Heart disease, strokes and obesity are other conditions with a heavier toll in men.

And when it comes to happiness, women again appear to have the upper hand if you look at suicide rates.

From the list of male ailments it is clear that many are related to unhealthy lifestyle choices, like drinking, smoking and a poor diet with little exercise.

Experts also know that men are particularly bad at seeking medical help even when they need it.

But is it fair to lay the blame with men themselves?

The Men's Health Forum is launching a new campaign to tackle this poor health record.

It says too many men are still dying far too young.

Early grave

In England and Wales, 42% of men die before their 75th birthday compared to 26% of women.

Start Quote

It is very easy and tempting to blame men for this and to be fatalistic about it but we do not think that's right”

End Quote Peter Baker Men's Health Forum

To put an absolute number on it, almost 100,000 men - which would be enough to fill all of the British Army full-time posts - are dying prematurely each year compared to about 66,000 women.

Yet most of these deaths are avoidable.

The biggest male killers are heart attacks and strokes. These circulatory diseases kill 300 in every 100,000 men compared to 190 in every 100,000 women.

Next comes cancer. Data shows men are 70% more likely than women to die from cancers that affect both sexes and 60% more likely to get cancer.

In third place are respiratory diseases, shortly followed by dementias and diseases of the liver.

Most of these diseases are linked to avoidable factors, such as obesity and heavy alcohol consumption, which are more commonly a problem among men.

Self-inflicted?

As a group, men out-drink and out-smoke women and, what's more, only 40% of men do enough physical activity.

How to reverse the imbalance, the Men's Health Forum way

  • Get more men physically active
  • Tackle men's mental health problems
  • Address men's high cancer rates
  • Improve men's use of GP services
  • Involve more workplaces in male wellbeing

This may partly explain why 41% of men are overweight compared with 32% of women.

Men are also more likely to violently end their own life, either inadvertently in a road traffic accident or intentionally via suicide.

Although the rates of suicide attempts do not differ between the sexes, men are far more successful at the job. Of all people who kill themselves, 76% are men.

Nicola Peckett, of Samaritans, said it was still unclear why men fared less well than women when it comes to health and survival.

"Some of it is because men are very bad at seeking help.

"We also know that men don't access services as much as women."

For example, men visit the GP far less than women, even when you discount the extra visits some women require for pregnancy care.

Start Quote

It's not simply just that men are not seeking help. We need to look deeper than this. Could it be because our society favours girls or that we expect too much of our men?”

End Quote Nicola Peckett Samaritans

The Men's Health Forum believes that getting men to be more involved in their health would help close the gender gap.

The charity's chief executive Peter Baker said: "It is very easy and tempting to blame men for this and to be fatalistic about it, but we do not think that's right. Men do care about their health and don't want to die young.

"One issue is that the health system is not working for them. Services are not very male friendly."

Ms Peckett believes there are wider issues to explain why men fare so badly.

"It's not simply just that men are not seeking help. We need to look deeper than this.

"Could it be because our society favours girls or that we expect too much of our men?

"We've been asking these questions and have enlisted the help of social scientists and anthropologists to help us find out."

She said their researchers are looking for societal causes.

Early work with male focus groups suggests factors like job security are also involved.

"There is anecdotal evidence that traditional male jobs are disappearing and more feminine skill roles are taking their place.

"We also know that men who lose their employment can feel emasculated.

"And because they tend to bottle up their feelings and don't like to talk about things, problems can spiral out of control."

In the meantime, she said there were plenty of things men could do to improve their quality of life and survival odds, including getting more exercise.

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