Story: Men’s health
The Movember initiative sees men around New Zealand sporting moustaches to raise awareness about male health issues. Increasing attention was paid to men’s health in the 2000s – yet male life expectancy remained around four years less than that of women.
Full story by Robert Beaglehole
Main image: Peter Snell, aged 70
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Women’s health has been more widely discussed than men’s health, both by the medical profession and by interest groups. Men’s illnesses like prostate cancer have only been discussed publicly in the 2000s.
Men’s life expectancy was 78.4 years in 2007–9, four years less than that of women. However, the gap between male and female life expectancy became smaller over the previous decade. Māori men’s life expectancy was 8.6 years lower than that of non-Māori men, and low-income men were more likely to die at a younger age than wealthier men.
Causes of death and illness
In 2006 the leading cause of death for men was heart disease, then stroke, respiratory disease, and lung cancer. Death rates were higher for Māori men, many of whom died from diabetes. Road accidents and suicide were also significant causes of death, especially for younger men.
The most common mental health problem was depression. Men’s dementia rates were likely to increase as the population aged.
Risk factors for the major causes of death and disease are well known and preventable. They include:
- smoking. In 2008, 26% of men aged 15–64 were smokers. The rates were higher for Māori, Pacific and low-income men.
- poor diet and lack of exercise, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. In 2006/7 a quarter of men were obese.
- alcohol. Drinking heavily can lead to physical and mental illness, as well as road accidents and violence. Younger men, and Māori and Pacific men, were more likely to drink heavily.
Macho culture can encourage men to take risks such as drinking too much, driving fast and playing dangerous sports – all of which can lead to accidents. Men also use health services less than women.
Men’s health initiatives
Women’s health groups are more common than men’s groups. From 2008 the Cancer Society and Mental Health Foundation worked together on Movember, which encourages men to grow moustaches during November. It draws attention to – and raises money for – men’s health issues such as prostate cancer and depression.