Men’s Health “and” or “vs” Women’s Health?
In honor of Men’s Health Month, we have a guest post from Derek Griffith, PhD, Director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University, and Erin Bergner, MPH, MA, Senior Research Specialist at the Center.
Advocating for men’s health is not an effort to take attention and resources from women’s health. While there are unique biological, social, economic and political factors that affect women’s health, researchers and practitioners alike tend to be confused and concerned when these determinants are also applied to men’s health. Men’s health is simply a field dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of men, which includes considering the broad range of factors that affect health such as age, race, gender, and personal values, and the full array of social, cultural and economic determinants that are modifiable, including lifestyle, to improve health.
Across racial and ethnic groups in most industrialized countries, women live longer than men, despite the economic, social and political power that tends to advantage men. Explanations for gender differences in health tend to focus on men’s presumed reluctance to seek medical care and psychological factors such as men’s adherence to unhealthy beliefs and norms. This view decontextualizes men’s health and ignores the cultural, economic and social factors that shape men’s health behaviors and practices and ultimately men’s health outcomes. Most men’s health outcomes are modifiable because they are shaped heavily by psychological and social factors, despite their biological components. If we are to improve the health of the nation, we have to pay more attention, and more thoughtful attention, to men’s health.
Women and men alike would benefit from the incorporation of gender into all policy processes and spheres. Both men and women can find common ground in supporting the need for gender-sensitive policies, programs and evaluation indicators of the effectiveness of efforts to improve population health. It is important to move beyond a discussion that reifies and presumes that gender differences in health are immutable to efforts that look for interconnections and the variations among these sex and gender categories that may be fodder for more effective policy and practice. Such work goes beyond simply providing information about diseases and health behaviors to understand and address factors that motivate and make it easier for men to gain access to current and accurate health information, health care services and ways to prevent illness and promote well-being.