Saving Men's Lives

Photo of several men with the caption: In 20 years...what do you want to look and feel like? Men's Health Network.
Men "live sick and die young," Dr. Salvatore Giorgianni of the non-profit Men's Health Network told HRSA staff on June 16 at a Men's Health Week observance. And much of the reason is men's attitudes about their health. "The figures are ominous," he said, especially in the time of COVID-19.​​​​​​​​​​​​

"On behalf of my wife, I'd like to say thank you because I'm sure she would say this is a great initiative, a great effort, because there are times when she has to force me to go see a doctor ... most men need to pay more attention to their health. All of us can, and should, see a doctor for regular check-ups -- even if we feel healthy.​​​" -Tom Engels, HRSA Administrator​

HRSA Administrator Tom Engels speaking at an event

The Administrator noted that "compared to women, men are more likely to smoke, drink too much alcohol, make unhealthy or risky choices and put off regular checkups and medical care," often with disastrous consequences over time, "because some diseases and health conditions don’t have symptoms at first."

In fact, experts at Tuesday's presentation observed, men's health begins a steep decline as early as their mid-twenties, thanks to devil-may-care attitudes, lower rates of health insurance, higher incidence of suicide and higher prevalence for nine of the top 10 leading causes of death.

"Men's life expectancy is almost five years shorter than that of women," said Ana Tomsic of the Men's Health Network.

"We want to try to address those issues and the only way to do that is by going to see your health care provider on a regular basis," she continued. "That's an annual visit to keep track of what your health status is ... and one of the ideas we want to try to change is this perception that men think going to the doctor or being sick is making them (appear) vulnerable or unmanly."

From left, Dr. Salvatore Giorgianni and Ana Tomsic of the 25-year-old non-profit, Men's Health Network; and event MC Michael Weaver of HRSA's Bureau of Primary Health Care
From left, Dr. Salvatore Giorgianni and Ana Tomsic of the 25-year-old non-profit, Men's Health Network; event MC Michael Weaver of HRSA's Bureau of Primary Health Care noted that across racial and ethnic groups, the health consciousness of boys and men is often bound up with mental health issues. The webcast event was jointly hosted with HRSA's Office of Civil Rights, Diversity and Inclusion.

Dr. Giorgianni offered a stark illustration of the problem:

Of 1.5 million COVID-19 tests administered in the U.S., 56 percent were sought by women -- who not only had fewer positive results, but were less likely to die of the virus. As of the first week of June, men comprised 59 percent of confirmed cases and some 62 percent of deaths.

Among possible contributing factors, Giorgianni noted: Not only are men less likely to get screened for the virus, they are less likely to wear masks and practice other protective measures; they historically have lower vaccine adherence, such as flu shots; they're more apt to have underlying health conditions and histories of substance misuse -- from alcohol and tobacco to illicit drugs and opioids. And they "do not engage in health care to the extent​​ that they should."

Almost half of U.S. adults, he said, citing findings of the CDC, "are potentially at increased risk for complications of COVID-19 because of chronic conditions that are, in turn, associated with common modifiable risk factors."

Tom Engels stressed that with the continuing expansion of telehealth -- HRSA has awarded some $46.5 million from across the agency in recent months for the technology -- providers often can put men on a firmer health footing, even at a distance.

"The greatest gift you can give yourself and your family this Father's Day," said Tomsic, "is your good health."

Date Last Reviewed:  June 2020