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Do Women Care More About Their Health Than Men?

Written by S.O.

Posted on April 15, 2015 at 3:51 pm

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One need simply look at life-expectancy rates to see that women, on average, live longer than their male counterparts. Further, women are much more likely than men to seek medical care when they are sick.

While opinions abound as to why that is, again one need only look at how both genders view seeking medical help – especially of the maintenance variety – to develop a plausible motive behind the nearly five-year difference in life expectancy between men and women – women in the US live on average 80 years, while men clock in at just over 76 years.

Let’s look at some of the reasons behind that difference.

Men are less likely to ask for help

Perhaps you remember that sign in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Predator, when former professional wrestler, navy seal, and former governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura is told during a shootout that he’s been shot.

“I ain’t got time to bleed,” he says laconically, before walking away to go fight some more.

Photo by Alberto Porass

As cool as some men might find Ventura’s line, too many of them take the same attitude when they are told to go to a doctor. Marianne Legato, MD, professor emerita of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and founder and director of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine describes it this way: “Men often deny illness; they minimize symptoms because they don’t want to go to a doctor and find out something is wrong.”

Perhaps we should call it the John Wayne syndrome.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year, and are over 20 percent more likely than women to dismiss the results of preventative screenings for things like cholesterol or heart health. Prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that men were 28 percent less likely than women to have a physician, were 25 percent less likely to have visited the doctor in the past year, and 1-in-5 did not have health insurance prior to 2012.

In fact, orthopedics is the lone medical specialty that men are more likely to access than women. The reason for this, experts say, are that sports injuries or injuries related to manual labor force men to swallow their pride and seek the advice of a doctor; that is, when their, outward appearance of fitness or their livelihoods are at stake, men will go to the doctor.

The reasons men avoid help

Per the aforementioned John Wayne syndrome, men are much less likely than women to seek medical help. But, why do men feel that way?

Many behavioral scientists postulate that this attitude is tied to a cluster of cultural behavioral traits more often exhibited by men – primarily emotional suppression and aggression – and that men simply are more likely to exhibit risk-taking behavior. These ‘masculine’ behaviors are the primary drivers, say experts, behind men failing to seek medical attention. Couple with that is the idea that men will be able to problem-solve their way out of medical trouble, or that if they seek help, they will somehow be admitting they aren’t tough.

Photo by Ulisse Albiati

Many dismiss these notions as antiquated, but our culture often still holds attitudes that reinforce these ideas of toughness and strength.

Another reason for this avoidance of medical assistance is that men are more often afraid of what they might find out the doctor’s office. Many men still hold fast to the notion that what they don’t know can’t hurt them. So, they hold out from remediating small problems until they become so bit they cannot be ignored. Much of this can be attributed to denial, or the fact that men are less comfortable acknowledging their imperfections. Many men simply have not considered their mortality, so they think avoiding the topic will keep aging at bay.

Yet, even for younger men, this line of thinking persists, especially as they relate to seeking their sexually transmitted disease status or when they might need psychological health.

Advantages of being a woman

Aside from being more likely to seek medical attention, woman also hold some distinct physiological and societal advantages over men.

For one thing, said Dr. Legato, male fetuses are more likely to die as a result of prenatal infections and other health issues in the womb by the time they are born –as many as two-and-a-half males are conceived for every female. Combining that with the slower in-utero development for boys, males are much more likely to be born with underdeveloped organs, including the lungs and the brain.

Though heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, women tend to develop it on average a decade later than men. One reason for this is that women hold an extra protection against heart disease until they hit menopause. That’s is, because women produce estrogen, which helps with artery health, they are much less likely to die early due to heart disease.

Women, on average, are less likely to engage in riskier-type behaviors and often have much stronger social connections – a factor that may lower your chance of early death by as much as 50 percent.

While it’s impossible to develop a plan to compel all men to do the things they must do to live longer, there are a few things that men can do that will help immediately.

For one thing, switching the cultural perception of ‘maleness’ from being strong to being smart is a good start. Taking some of the emphasis off risky behavior and promoting better eating and health choices is another good place to start.

Photo by Pan American Health Organization-PAHO/World Health

But the most important point is to get men to develop relationships with their doctors, and to integrate them into a larger medical and health culture. Getting men to participate in their own health outcomes will go a long way toward eliminating a lot of the other reasons mean die earlier than women.

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