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Shorter life spans for men called 'silent health crisis'

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

WASHINGTON Like many men, NBA all-star Alonzo Mourning used to shrug off pain.

I, too, was one of the Superman syndrome-type guys,'' he said Tuesday at a briefing on men's health. That's the mentality of many men of color.''

It's also one of the reasons U.S. men die on average almost five years before women, and far sooner if they belong to racial or ethnic minorities. The American Journal of Public Health calls the phenomenon a silent health crisis.''

In its May issue, the journal reports that many minority men lack access to good health services and insurance: while 17 percent of white men are uninsured, 28 percent of black men and almost half the Hispanic men have no insurance. At the same time, it contends that cultural beliefs about masculinity also are undermining good health care.

Men generally don't like to appear weak, needing advice, not being in control,'' said Louis Sullivan, former secretary of the Health and Human Services.

Indeed, women are twice as likely as men to visit a doctor each year, and men's visits are shorter and less likely to include advice on behavioral changes that would improve health, sociologist David Williams of the University of Michigan wrote in the journal.

Among the journal's other findings:

Men have higher death rates than women for each of the 15 leading causes of death except Alzheimer's disease. Men's death rates are at least twice as high for accidents, murder, suicide and sclerosis of the liver.

Women have lived longer for the past century. Although the gap is narrowing, men's life expectancy remains almost five years shorter than women's and black men normally die almost 12 years earlier than white women.

When it comes to chronic disease, men are slightly more likely to get high blood pressure or cancer, and twice as likely to consume more than five alcoholic drinks a day.

Joseph Betancourt, a senior scientist at the Harvard University Institute for Health Policy, said trust and image problems also hinder effective relationships between doctors and male patients, minorities in particular.

Betancourt said doctors have to understand the priorities of their patients and work with them.

Mourning, a center for the Miami Heat, said realization came for him after his diagnosis with a rare kidney-destroying disease in 2000. Now, he said, First and foremost, I make my health a priority.''

Sullivan said he hoped that health advocates like Mourning would raise awareness and result in more research on men's health issues.

From whatever side of the political spectrum you approach this, the need to act is critical,'' he said.



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