It is true for almost every country in the world that more boys are born each year than girls. However, boys are more likely to die in their first year of life than girls. In fact, it turns out that men are more susceptible to poorer health and increased risk of death compared to women throughout life. So much for the “weaker” sex.

In a report published in the May 2003 American Journal of Public Health , a researcher from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan discusses which subgroups of American men are more vulnerable to poor health and increased risk of death, and what factors may contribute to this susceptibility.

About the Study

The scientist analyzed national data to determine men’s health trends. In particular, he examined the general health status of men compared with women, high-risk subgroups of men, and what factors influenced men’s health.

The Findings

The Health Status of Men

  • At every age, American men have poorer health and a higher risk of death compared to American women
  • Men have higher age-adjusted death rates than women for the 15 leading causes of death in the United States (with the exception of Alzheimer’s disease )
  • Both African-American and white men are twice as likely as women to die due to accidents, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver, and homicide
  • Men are 1.2 times more likely to have hypertension and 1.3 times more likely to have cancer than women

High-risk Subgroups of Men

  • Men with low incomes and educations, minority men with low incomes and educations, and middle-class black men are at especially high risk for poor health and premature mortality compared to other groups of men
  • Over the past two decades, the suicide rate for white men has remained stable while the suicide rate for young black men has increased sharply

Factors Influencing Men’s Health

According to this study, the following factors appear to contribute to the disparity between health outcomes in men and women.

  • Employment, job stress, and work conditions:
    • Men tend to work in more dangerous jobs than women and men represent 90% of job fatalities
    • Unemployment and job insecurity are associated with elevated rates of stress, illness, disability, and mortality
    • Adverse job conditions such as high job demands with little control or reward lead to poor health
  • Personal health practices:
    • Men are more likely to smoke cigarettes than women (26% versus 22%)
    • Men are twice as likely to consume five or more alcoholic drinks in a single day
  • Response to stress and coping
    • Stress has been shown to have long-term negative consequences on health, including mental health, susceptibility to infection, and risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Women appear to employ better coping strategies for stress than men.
    • Men are more likely to use alcohol and drugs as a strategy to cope with stress
  • Use of health services
    • Men are less likely than women to attend preventive health care visits
    • Men have lower levels of adherence to medical regimens than women
    • Health care providers spend less time with men than women; provide them with fewer services, less health information, and less advice; and are less likely to talk about the need to change behaviors to improve health

How Does This Affect You?

While it has long been known that the life expectancy of men is consistency less than that of women, the data reported in this study suggest reasons for this disparity. The author, however, did not address why the factors that influence men’s health do not affect women’s health to the same degree.

In any case, the results of this study point to at least two areas that health providers, health educators, and men themselves can focus on to improve men’s health and long-term outlook.

First, personal health practices can have a tremendous influence on health outcomes. Physicians should take the time to educate their male patients about healthy lifestyle habits, how personal and family medical history may affect risk, opportunities for self-care, and the availability of effective screening interventions.

Second, response to stress also appears to be an important negative factor for men’s health. Although the science behind stress and its effects on health is still not well understood, enough is known to compel health care providers to recognize stress as a legitimate risk factor and to discuss adaptive coping behaviors—as opposed to the use of drugs, alcohol, and avoidance—with their male patients.

Men must strive to recognize what conditions predispose them to disease, injury and death before their time. With this information, they can take steps to increase the number of healthy years they get to spend with the women in their lives.