“Everything from seatbelt use to alcohol use, smoking, sunscreen use, cardiovascular exercise. Men were worse than women in every category of health behavior except weightlifting,” James Mahalik, Ph.D., a Boston College professor of psychology, told the audience.
What’s the reason? “Men may view health risk behaviors as masculine. The very way in which society may present masculinity may, in and of its definition, include taking health risks. We can think of the Marlboro man as a very stoic, masculine kind of guy.”
The result, he said, is a society in which men die 5.4 years younger than women, on average. Although heart disease is the top killer of all people in America, three-quarters of all people who die of heart disease younger than age 65 are men.
Mental health issues are also hitting men particularly hard. Men in America are four times as likely as women to commit suicide. We’re often reluctant to seek out health care—a trend that’s amplified when it comes to mental health concerns, explained Michael Addis, Ph.D., a psychology professor from Clark University. And the recent recession, which drove up unemployment particularly among men, exacerbated male suicide, substance abuse, and depression rates.
Our culture also discourages men from taking time off work to obtain medical care, Mahalik explained. Even 6 out of 10 doctors—who really should understand the risks of going to work sick—reported working while ill, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
What this all means: “We’re less likely to seek help for virtually every problem out there,” said Addis.
Part of the reason could be that men don’t have a go-to doctor for non-emergency issues. Among men ages 30 to 39, only 67 percent visited a primary care physician in the past year—and the numbers were even lower for younger men—according to a survey presented American Osteopathic Association’s Osteopathic Medical Conference and Exposition.
So if you don’t have a primary care doctor, get one. Look for someone board certified in family medicine or internal medicine, says Steven Lamm, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University’s medical center. (
“Health promotion efforts should be framed in a way to . . . encourage men to live their lives more healthfully—to be good providers, to be good husbands, to be strong.” Mahalik said this commenting on health policy, but it’s a good message for individuals, too: To be manly is to live well.