Why Guys Don’t Take Care of Their Health
From the President on down, men risk their lives every day.
President Obama caused more than a few comments earlier this week when he sat down to a satisfying Southern meal just a day or so after getting the news that his cholesterol was borderline high. But that little detail didn’t stop the president from piling on his plate some, er, hearty portions of fried chicken, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. And let’s not forget the banana pudding.
The episode so rattled Washington reporters that they had to discuss it at a news conference with presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs, who admitted that there were more cheeseburgers eaten in the White House than anyone had hitherto known. (He also said he didn’t know where the President, who smokes, bought his cigarettes. The doctors weren’t crazy about Obama’s tobacco habit, either.)
We don’t know why everyone’s so shocked. The President was just doing what millions of American guys do every day—ignoring his health and hoping his wife won’t find out. (“Don’t tell Michelle,” he joked.)
Of course, there’s a lot that isn’t at all funny about this. “Men die, on an average, more than five years younger than women,” says Will Courtenay, Ph.D., a specialist in men’s health and the author of Helping Men Live Happier, More Fulfilling Lives. Why? Among the research findings Courtenay cites:
*Men are less likely than women to think they are susceptible to diseases. Basically, Courtenay says, “Men often think they’re invulnerable.”
*Men are less knowledgeable than women about health; this ignorance increases their risks.
*Media and advertisements often foster the behaviors in men and boys that end up increasing their risks (i.e. drink lots of beer, eat lots of red meat and fried snacks.)
*Men are less ready or willing than women to change unhealthy behaviors.
Unfortunately, the roots of such habits and behaviors are deep, frequently going back to childhood and the concept of masculinity itself. Says Jean Bonhomme, MD, an Atlanta physician and a board member of the nonprofit Men’s Health Network, “Males are often socialized from childhood that if you simply ignore something painful, it will go away with time.” That’s probably OK if you’re suffering a scraped knee from a baseball game. But, Bonhomme explains, “Later in life, mild symptoms may indicate early signs of progressive disease that may go from manageable to incurable in a short time.” (But don’t think that just because your guy is in his 20s or 30s he’s safe. Research has found that high levels of “bad” cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, can occur as early as the late teens. No one is “too young” for regular physical exams.) Courtenay also points out that the more traditional attitude a man has toward manhood, the less likely he’ll be to seek help. “’Real’ men are not supposed to worry about their bodies or pamper themselves,” Courtenay says.
These are the underlying reasons, Courtenay says, why men engage in activities that endanger their health in a number of ways, whether it’s eating unhealthy food, smoking cigarettes, avoiding physical exams, or engaging in unprotected sex. “Men do more of the things,” he says, “that are conclusively linked with a greater risk of injury and death.”
So is there anything you can do if your guy is among the one-third of American men who have no doctor to go to? Experts advise taking a low-key, nonjudgmental approach. Says Bonhomme, “The best approach is tactful, non-blaming and tailored to the man’s personality.” If your guy is mindful of his good looks, gently suggest that he’ll be even more devastating without a spare tire. “If he likes to be in charge,” Bonhomme says, “he may respond to being challenged: ‘Your blood pressure is high. What are you going to do about it?’” But don’t be too critical. You’re doing this because you love him, not because you want to embarrass or shame him. And if you get a negative response, back off for a while. Recognize that his bad health habits weren’t developed overnight, so they’re not going away tomorrow.
And while you’re waiting, you might want to take a look at how well you’re caring for yourself. After all, no one’s perfect!
Jane Farrell is an editor with BettyConfidential.