International Men’s Health Week is an annual awareness week, celebrated in several countries across Europe, as well as in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. In the UK, the event is led by the charity Men’s Health Forum, whose mission is to improve the health of men and boys. The week forms part of their ongoing efforts to tackle the high rate of premature deaths in men.1
Each year, the awareness week in the UK is centred around a particular health issue that disproportionately affects men. This year’s week takes place from 13 to 19 June with the theme being ‘Time for your MOT’, to encourage men to check in on their mental and physical health.2 Previous years have focused on mental wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic, diabetes and healthy living.
Why do we need Men’s Health Week?
The rate of premature death in the UK is higher in men compared with women, with one in five men dying before the age of 65.3 Common causes of these avoidable deaths include cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health problems.
Men are more likely to die from heart and circulatory diseases than women (with 1 in 8 men in the UK dying from coronary heart disease compared with 1 in 15 women).4,5 Similarly, there are 2.3 million people in the UK living with coronary heart disease, yet men account for 65% of these cases, and 75% of premature deaths from the disease.4
In addition to this, men also have a 37% higher risk of dying from cancer than women,6 with prostate cancer the most common cancer in men and the second most common cause of cancer death in males in the UK.7
Mental health is a huge area for concern, particularly in men. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 35 years (4 in 5 suicides are completed by men), while a sharp increase has been seen among men aged 35 – 64 years since 2018.8 Even though reported levels of anxiety and depression are lower in men than women, it is thought that this may be due to these conditions presenting differently in men, and that symptoms may not be recognised and diagnosed.9 As diagnosis aids access to treatment, a lack of diagnosis of mental health issues in men is troubling.
Why are men at greater risk of avoidable deaths than women?
Men are more likely than women to engage in some lifestyle activities that are detrimental to health, which may be attributable to their increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In the UK, 18% of men smoke compared with 15% of women,10 and as is widely known, smoking increases the risk of developing several serious health conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 11
Alcohol is also a cause for concern, as in 2020, men constituted 65% of hospital admissions where the main reason for admission was attributable to alcohol.12 Men are more likely to drink at higher levels than women, with twice as many men drinking at higher risk levels than women (over 14 units per week for both genders; 25% vs 12%).13
Men are also more likely to be affected by being overweight or obese than women in the UK, with 68% of men aged 16 years and over being overweight or obese, compared with 60% of women.11
It is evident that men are at a greater risk of dying from several common illnesses than women, which may be partly attributable to lifestyle factors. Therefore, an awareness week is needed to help to bring this issue into the spotlight to bring about change to improve health outcomes for men internationally.
How can men’s health issues be tackled?
Raising awareness at an individual level through Men’s Health Week is one of several actions that can be taken in working towards better health outcomes for men. Men’s Health Forum are also calling for several changes to be made at an organisational level to ensure that all men across the UK have the same access to better health.4
These changes include actions such as:
- Collecting and reporting gender-disaggregated data, as currently a substantial amount of key health and lifestyle data is not reported by gender, meaning that trends indicating poor health in men cannot be detected on a local level.
- Investing more in research into health issues that disproportionately affect men, such as mental health and cancer.
- Focusing on disease prevention in men with male-tailored interventions to tackle lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity, mental health, illegal drugs and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Removing barriers that may prevent men from accessing health care services, especially those of working age.
- Targeting health programmes to the needs of the highest risk groups of men and boys.
It is clear to see that there is much work to be done to improve the health outcomes of men, but with a clear plan of action there is hope that the rate of premature deaths in men could start to decline.
- Men’s Health Forum. Our mission: to improve the health of men and boys. Available at: https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/about-us. Accessed June 2022.
- Men’s Health Forum. Men’s health week: Time for your M.O.T. June 13-19, 2022. Available at: https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/mhw. Accessed June 2022.
- Men’s Health Forum. Key data: Mortality. Available at: https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/key-data-mortality. Accessed June 2022.
- Men’s Health Forum. Men’s health manifesto. Available at: https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/mens_health_manifesto_lr.pdf. Accessed June 2022.
- British Heart Foundation. Heart statistics. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics. Accessed June 2022.
- Men’s Health Forum. Men and cancer: Saving lives expert report. Available at: https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/men-and-cancer-saving-lives-expert-report. Accessed June 2022.
- Cancer Research UK. Prostate cancer statistics. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/prostate-cancer#heading-Zero. Accessed June 2022.
- Men’s Health Forum. Get it off your chest. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/6771/get-it-off-your-chest_a4_final.pdf. Accessed June 2022.
- NHS Digital. Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2014.
- NHS Digital. Health Survey for England 2019. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2019. Accessed June 2022.
- NHS. What are the health risks of smoking? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-are-the-health-risks-of-smoking. Accessed June 2022.
- NHS Digital. Statistics on Alcohol, England 2021. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-alcohol/2021. Accessed June 2022.
- NHS Digital. Health Survey for England 2019 Adults’ health-related behaviours. Available at: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/D4/93337C/HSE19-Adult-health-behaviours-rep.pdf. Accessed June 2022.
Author: Holly Hardstone | Medical Writer | Porterhouse Medical