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Men's Health Month: How Primary Care Providers Can Reduce Gender Health Disparities

June 1 kicked off the 22nd annual Menís Health Month. While raising awareness among male patients is a focus of Menís Health Month, primary care providers can also play a role
June 1 kicked off the 22nd annual Men’s Health Month. Organized by Men’s Health Network, a national nonprofit committed to raising health awareness and improving disease prevention among men and boys, Men’s Health Month is observed each year with health fairs, fundraisers, social media campaigns, and more.

Darryl Davidson, director of Men’s Health for the Northwest Health Center in Milwaukee, summed up the need for Men's Health Month. “Compared to similarly-aged women, men are less likely to have a regular doctor and health insurance, and are more likely to put off routine checkups or delay seeing a health provider after experiencing symptoms,” he explained. “This month is a reminder to talk to health professionals and to learn about important screenings that assist with finding conditions before they get worse.”

A recent infographic from Georgetown University’s online family nurse practitioner program details some of starkest health issues facing men today. In terms of life expectancy, men live 4.8 years fewer than women. That’s no wonder considering that 42.2% of men do not meet federal exercise guidelines, 72.9% are overweight, 31.6% have high blood pressure, 20.5% are smokers, 17% are dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives, and 11.6% use illegal drugs. Men are also 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV, 4 times more likely to commit suicide, and twice as likely to die from unintentional injuries.

While raising awareness among male patients is a focus of Men’s Health Month, primary care providers (PCPs) can also play a role in reducing gender health disparities. HHS provides recommendations that PCPs should communicate and promote to their male patients, which include 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, weight loss, healthy eating, and smoking cessation.

Of course, PCPs can only influence their male patients when they come in for appointments—and, unfortunately, PCP visits are rare for men. A survey by The Commonwealth Fund found that, in the last year, almost one-fourth of all men had not seen a doctor (compared to only 8% of women), that 1 in 3 men had no regular doctor (compared to 1 in 5 women), and that more than one-half had not gone in for a routine checkup or cholesterol test. Additionally, the survey revealed that nearly 40% of men would delay pursuing care for a few days, with 17% saying they would wait a week.

In an effort to get men to meet with their PCPs more often, the HHS also recommends a lifelong timeline of screenings, physicals and exams. The timeline begins at 18 years old with regular blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and specific cancer screenings and ends at age 65 and older, with annual physicals, pneumonia shots, and abdominal aortic aneurysm screenings for smokers. In between there are age-appropriate recommendations for physicals (every 2 years between the ages of 18 and 64), diabetes screenings (every 3 years beginning at age 45) and discussions about osteoporosis and prostate cancer (beginning at age 50).

It’s quite the regimen, but necessary if the gap in health disparities between the genders is to be closed. In observation of Men’s Health Month, consider sharing the timeline with your patients today.

 
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