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20 November 2022 | Health

Why men are dying earlier than women

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As November rolls around, we all start getting into the holiday spirit - the excitement of celebrating with friends and family, thinking about how fast the year has flown by, and for some, it sparks the urge to grow facial hair for the entire month. Since 2003, men all over the world have been encouraged to grow their manliest mustache and bushiest beards in November for the Movember movement. Movember is a charity that focuses on raising awareness of men’s health issues, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.

Men’s health is in crisis. On average, men are dying 5 years earlier than women, and for largely preventable reasons. 1 in 8 men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among young men. And globally, men account for 69% of all suicides. While it may not be apparent upon first glance, there is in fact a gender health gap - men are dying younger than women.

This movember, we want to raise awareness of men’s health issues and advocate for men’s health. Let’s understand the facts and challenge the stigma around men seeking help.

The gender gap in health

Men are biologically the weaker sex. When you look at life expectancy over the last century, we’re seeing women increasingly outliving men. This trend is happening all over the world, with the longevity gap present in both industrialized societies and developing countries. Not only do men die younger than women, they tend to suffer from more chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke and cancer.

The gender health gap is more apparent among the elderly, with a glance at most nursing homes or assisted living facilities consisting predominantly of women. Among the individuals that have gotten a Prenuvo scan, we have found a similar trend whereby men are 4 times more likely than women to develop bladder conditions such as bladder diverticula, bladder obstruction and bladder wall thickening. These conditions are not necessarily life-threatening, but when left untreated, can cause serious issues.

Why are men dying earlier than women?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Sadly, there’s no single answer. The gender health gap is influenced by a range of biological, social and behavioral factors.

Men take more risks

Generally, men tend to underestimate risk, suppress emotions and are more impulsive. As a result, they tend to take more frequent and dangerous risks. There is a biological explanation for this. The frontal lobe - the part that controls judgment and consideration of an action’s consequences - develops more slowly in boys and young men than in their female counterparts. This may contribute to the fact that far more boys and men die in accidents or due to violence than girls and women. It could also explain the types of jobs that men tend to gravitate towards. Men far outnumber women in some of the riskiest occupations such as military combat, policing, and firefighting.

Cardiovascular disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, killing over 380,000 men in 2020. Compared to women, men are 50% more likely to die of heart disease. Experts are still unsure why this is the case. However, a possible explanation could be related to the hormone estrogen. It has protective effects against cardiovascular disease, and men have lower estrogen levels compared to women.

Among the patients that we’ve scanned at Prenuvo, men are 175% more likely to have an enlarged heart compared to women. While this is not a disease, it could be a sign of heart damage and other types of heart disease.

High suicide rates

Although women are more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts, it’s men that are much more likely to take their own lives. Alarmingly, in the U.S., approximately 4 in 5 suicides are men. Suicide is a hugely sensitive and complex issue with a multitude of causes so we may never fully understand the reasons behind it.

However, a key element to the high suicide rates among men is due to societal and cultural pressures that are placed on men. From a young age, boys have been conditioned to not express emotions, that “boys don’t cry”. As a result, men are less likely to admit when they feel vulnerable - whether that is to themselves, friends or doctors. Such rigid expectations may make it difficult for men to reach out and ask for support.

Tendency to avoid doctors

A study conducted by the insurance company, Aflac, in 2021 surveyed 1000 men in the U.S. that are over the age of 18. They found that 45% of men had not visited a family doctor for an annual checkup, and three quarters had not gone to the doctors even if they had symptoms of a specific illness. It’s the expectations that society has placed on young boys that discourages men to seek help when they become adults, when issues start to seriously impact their lives.

What can we do about it?

There is no straightforward solution for an issue this complex. But a number of programmes and nonprofits are paving ways to address and raise awareness of men’s health issues. Movember is a charity that has dedicated its mission to exactly that. Every November, men all around the world are encouraged to grow a mustache to raise awareness and advocate for men’s health. It’s a light-hearted approach to tackle some pretty heavy health concerns. In Australia, mental health and suicide prevention groups are trying to shift the cultural paradigm with initiatives such as RU OK? Day, which encourages people to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives.

Overall, the emphasis on these initiatives is to allow men to know it’s okay to talk about their feelings, and that it’s acknowledged as a sign of strength. Still, there is much more that can be done and will be an ongoing process.

Take health into your own hands

At Prenuvo, we’re shifting traditional paradigms to help empower people to better their health - to take a proactive approach that allows them to set themselves up for success in the future. Regardless of your age, sex or gender, we believe that everyone deserves to know what’s happening with your body so you can make health decisions that’s best for you.

It’s unfortunate that men experience societal and cultural pressures that prevent them from seeking help when they need it. At Prenuvo, we want to challenge this ideology and encourage men to take the initiative to look after their health. Our whole body MRI scan helps you proactively take care of your health. Scanning for over 500 conditions in less than 60 minutes, you can catch diseases early before they become crises. Our goal is to provide you with the knowledge of what’s going on inside your body so you can make better health decisions with confidence.

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