U.S. News & World Report: ‘Why Men Are So Good at Dying’

Los Angeles, CA–I can do without some of the man-blaming in Adam Voiland’s U.S. News & World Report article Why Men Are So Good at Dying (3/14/08), which is not to deny that he’s partly correct. Voiland writes:

“Until about 15 years ago, it was women who lacked information; traditionally, the standard patient in all kinds of medical research on disease and treatments had been the white male. In 1991, the Women’s Health Office was created in the Department of Health and Human Services to promote gender equity in research and raise awareness about conditions such as breast cancer, osteoporosis, and depression. Since then, men’s activists have been grousing that it’s men who aren’t getting a fair shake from the federal government. A bill calling for the establishment of a Men’s Health Office to tackle such urgent male concerns as prostate cancer, accidents, and suicide has been languishing in congressional committees for years.

“Considering the statistics that supporters of the men’s office brandish, you’d think it would be an easy sell. According to the Men’s Health Policy Center, for example, men die at higher rates than women for many leading causes of death. That includes, for example, a death rate for men that’s 50 percent higher than that of women for cancer; twice that of women for ischemic heart disease, and three times that of women for HIV/AIDS. On average–as it’s often pointed out–men live a total of 5.2 years less than women.

“Yet, the bill has been the victim of controversy about funding between the men’s health activists who argue that in the past 20 years medicine has tilted too far toward Venus and feminists unprepared to give up an inch of their hard-won territory. Men’s health advocate Glenn Sacks, for example, makes the case in this column that men’s health is underappreciated and under funded by the federal government. It’s true that women’s health initiatives have seen a boost in funding, says the Wall Street Journal. Yet, there’s a good argument to be made that that’s no reason to start a gender war…”

My column that Voiland cites is When Men’s Health Doesn’t Count (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 10/9/02)–it appears below. I hardly think the Men’s Health Act has been the victim of a male-created “gender war”–the Men’s Health Network, and its associated activists are supportive of the Office on Women’s Health, as was my column. We see a need for similar efforts for men, and have cited the Office on Women’s Health’s success as something we’d like to emulate for men.

Read the full U.S. News & World Report article here. My column, co-authored with Dianna Thompson, is below.

When Men’s Health Doesn’t Count
By Dianna Thompson and Glenn Sacks
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 10/9/02

Learn more about major areas of men’s health like how to protect against Male Prostate Cancer. there are even more subtle issues specific to men’s health like Health Supplements which meet the nutritional needs specific to men.

Congress is sending a message to American men: men’s health doesn’t count.

The disturbing health and mortality disparities between American whites and blacks are well known, but most people do not realize that the health and mortality disparities between women and men are just as great. For example, the gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks is six years, while the gender gap is 5.7 years. Adjusted for age, men are 1.6 times as likely as women to die from one of the top 10 causes of death, and blacks are 1.5 times as likely to die from them as whites.

Despite this, it is women’s health, not men’s, which continues to receive government attention and funding. For example, the National Institutes of Health–the federal focal point for medical research in the U.S.–spends nearly four times as much on female-specific health research as on male-specific research. And though the average man is as likely to die from prostate cancer as the average woman is from breast cancer, the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Cancer Institute spends three and a half times as much money on breast cancer research as on prostate cancer research.

In fact, prostate cancer makes up 37% of all cancer cases but receives only 5% of federal research funding. In addition, the breast cancer postage stamp has raised over $25 million for breast cancer research since it began in 1998, while a 1999 bill proposing a similar stamp for prostate cancer research was unsuccessful.

When Congress formed the Office on Women’s Health in 1991, its goal was to improve women’s health by directing and coordinating women’s health research, health care services, and health education. Since then men’s health advocates have been trying to create an Office of Men’s Health, with the goal of duplicating the OWH’s success. Yet while a new bill which will help to make the OWH’s funding permanent was just passed by the House, the Men’s Health Act of 2001 (H.R. 632) remains trapped in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health. If not rescued soon, the bill will die when the 107th Congress adjourns this fall.

According to Tracie Snitker, director of public affairs for the Men’s Health Network, “the number and quality of federally funded women’s health education projects is outstanding. But while outreach programs teach women about breast cancer and cervical cancer, there are few if any programs which educate men about their own gender-specific health needs.

“We want to do for men what the OWH has done for women,” she adds. “Men need education about the cancers which disproportionately affect them, such as prostate cancer, skin cancer and colorectal cancer. Young men need education on testicular cancer. Most importantly, we need to teach men to seek preventative health care.”

Part of the reason an Office of Men’s Health has been so long in coming is the common but nonetheless false perception that the government and the scientific community have paid more attention to men’s health than to women’s. In 1990 Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) made national headlines by citing the fact that women-specific health research comprised only 14% of the budget of the National Institute of Health (NIH). She called it “blatant discrimination” and led the successful campaign for the creation of the OWH. What Mikulski and many in the media who publicized Mikulski’s claims did not understand was that only 6.5% of the NIH’s budget went to male-specific research–the vast majority of the NIH’s research was gender neutral.

Today the disparity in favor of women in NIH research has grown, as has the gender disparity in enrollments in non-gender-specific studies. According to the Government Accounting Office, one of the few areas where men comprise the majority of research subjects is in initial trials of experimental drugs. These are the trials undertaken to ensure that the drugs are not lethal or seriously harmful.

First, drugs are usually tested on rats and monkeys. If there are no adverse effects, they are then tested on people–usually men. If the men also show no adverse effects, the drugs advance to larger trials, where women comprise the majority.

Considering Congress’ repeated refusal to act to help men’s health, one can’t help but wonder–is men’s health as important as women’s, or is it merely more important than monkeys’?

This column first appeared in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (10/9/02).

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