The Gender Gap in Preventive Health

I’ve worked in and around the natural/preventive health world for over a decade and I’ve been studying in the related arena for even longer than that, and something that is surprising to me in all of this time is just how few men seem to be involved in proactive and preventive health measures.

Statistics for the industry as whole, nationally, favor women – be it as customers shopping for supplements, organic foods, or health services. For those seeking supportive modalities such as massage, yoga, acupuncture etc. the response I witness is predominantly the same from men – “My wife/mother/daughter/sister would love that, I’ll tell her about it” – but the idea to men that they could seek it for themselves seems to make many almost squeamish. And for every person that enrolls in professional training for massage therapy, yoga, acupuncture school etc… females tend to outnumber their male classmates.

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The average age range of the men who do decide to dabble in preventive health care measures tends to be 55 years and older. Perhaps, faced with the physical toll of aging, some motivation factors start to kick in for self-care, or at least self preservation? Although many times I’ve observed men may not even seek any help without an insistent or persistent nudging from a friend or relative (often a female). Does our culture instill a notion that it is a weakness for men to seek help or betterment for their own well-being? Do the men feel somehow “less-than” for even asking and seeking help?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, women in the United States have an average 5+ year lifespan longer than men. In racial minorities sometimes the gender gap in life expectancy is even greater. In fact, men’s mortality rate is quite higher for 8 out of 10 leading causes of death in America:

DiseaseMale : Female death rate ratio
1. Heart disease1.5
2. Cancer1.4
3. Stroke1.0
4. Chronic obstructive lung disease1.3
5. Accidents2.2
6. Diabetes1.4
7. Alzheimer’s disease0.7
8. Influenza and pneumonia1.4
9. Kidney disease1.4
10. Septicemia (blood infection)1.2
All causes1.4
National Center for Health Statistics

According to information in studies from Harvard Health – [men die at a faster rate than women; the overall mortality rate is 41% higher for men than for women. American men are 2.1 times more likely to die from liver disease, 2.7 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS, 4.1 times more likely to commit suicide. Men not only die younger than women, but they are also more burdened by illness during their total lifetime. They fall ill at a younger age and have more chronic illnesses than women. Although women see doctors more often than men do, men actually cost our society much more for medical care beyond age 65.]

Yet in studies conducted as part of the Blue Zones project, examining the 9 regions of the world with the highest amount of centenarians in their populations compared to the entire rest of the world, men were thriving well past 85 years of age and at similar rates as the women. This in part is demonstrating that there isn’t necessarily de facto inherent biology causing health limitations in men.

All of this would seem to suggest that men are in greater need of proactive and preventive measures for health in our country. And/or perhaps that part of what contributes to the more positive statistical numbers for women is that they are more prone to taking an extra step in pro-active wellness.

In a study conducted by the NIHS in 2012 the factor that contributed consistently to a man’s likelihood of seeking complimentary or alternative health care products or services was to enhance his sports performance. While there is nothing wrong with being dedicated to your sport and wanting to do your best, it is disheartening that it seems only in the adulation of this performance is what drives these men to consider taking care of themselves.

If there is a biased, underlying cultural stigma that hinders a man’s willingness to be proactive with their health and well-being we need to start consciously dismantling this unhealthy and unfair foundation. “Live Fast, Die Hard” may be a great motto for a movie action hero, but perhaps your friends and family would actually prefer to enjoy your company longer if they’re able, and certainly wish the best for your health and functioning and quality of life.

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