June is Men’s Health Month, a time to raise awareness about how to reduce the risk factors that can harm men’s health and shorten their lives.
On average, men die five years earlier than women. The disparity is more pronounced for Black men, who on average have a life expectancy of 72—four years less than white men and nine years less than women of all races and ethnicities combined.
Throughout their lifetimes, men are more likely to be ill than women. Men also tend to die at higher rates from nine of the top 10 causes of death.
This year, there’s a new reason to be concerned about men’s health. Early data on COVID-19 indicate that men are more likely to get the new coronavirus, have more serious complications, and die from the disease.
What’s behind these disparities between men’s and women’s health?
The answer is complicated, in part because it involves biological, behavioral, and social factors. The female hormone estrogen, for example, is believed to offer some protection and play a role in the later onset of heart disease in women. Men tend to engage in more dangerous behaviors, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. Men also tend to eat a less healthy diet and to seek medical care less frequently. Plus, men are less likely to have support structures that can help reduce stress or to seek help with behavioral health problems.
What about COVID-19?
It is too early in the pandemic to draw conclusions about the way the disease works, whom it affects most, and how best to prevent or treat it. But we do know that to understand COVID-19’s impact on men, women, Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, and people of other nationalities, they must all be represented in COVID-19 research studies. Only then can we ensure that new knowledge benefits everyone, and vaccines and treatments are effective for all people.
That’s been Clinical Research Pathways’ message from the beginning. Unless clinical trials reflect the diversity of the population, we cannot be confident that research findings—including new drugs and medical devices—work for all. Increasing diversity in clinical trials benefits men and women and people of all ages, races, and ethnicity.
What can we do now to improve men’s health?
Clinical trials take time. While we wait for new discoveries, there are some simple steps all of us can take to make a difference for men now:
- Adopt healthy habits. Starting at a young age, encourage boys to eat right, stay active, and avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Although it’s best to form these habits early on, it’s never too late to improve your diet, exercise more, or quit smoking.
- Have routine health screenings. Heart disease, many cancers, and other chronic conditions can be treated more effectively if they are caught early. Make and keep appointments for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, prostate cancer, and other potentially lifesaving screenings.
- Get a primary care provider. Your primary care provider is an essential partner in keeping you healthy—in monitoring your overall health, preventing potential problems, managing chronic conditions, and arranging many of those key routine screenings. He or she also can connect you to specialists as needed.
- Ask for help. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, don’t hide or ignore your feelings. Instead, get help as early as possible. Ask your health insurance company for a list of covered providers or request a referral from your primary care provider. For online resources, see our recent blog post on COVID-19 and Mental Health Care: A Double Disparity.