My role


Blears says men's health is key

Speech by Hazel Blears, minister for public health to the Health Development Agency's Young Men's Health What Works and Why Conference in Birmingham, 6 November 2002:

I'm delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you this morning.

Today's conference marks the publication of a report on an important piece of work looking at best practice in young men's health activities.

I am particularly pleased to see that several organisations have been working closely with the HDA in the planning of this event: and that we have an expert audience here today to discuss this important area of health.

Improving the health of young men is an important element in ensuring that the Government's strategy to improve health across the board and tackle health inequalities is successful.

Tackling health inequalities is a key strand of the Government's Modernisation Programme designed to develop responsive, effective, public services.

Health education and health promotion messages that are appropriate, and that reach young men, will play a part in taking this agenda forward.

We needed to take a careful look at what was going on in the field and identify examples of good practice, and this is what we did in March 2000.

I think that it would be fair to say that the 2000 conference can be seen now as something of a landmark event.

I've seen a definition of men's health as:

conditions or diseases that are unique to men, more prevalent in men, more serious among men, for which risk factors are different for men or for which different interventions are required for men.

We need only look at a few facts to illustrate the importance of young men's health.

Life expectancy, where there is a marked excess of male over female mortality at the 15-44 age range, with men dying at around double the rate of women.

Men's life expectancy from their mid-teens (through to their mid-forties) can also be affected by a variety of other "risk factors" such as accidents, alcohol and drug misuse, HIV/AIDS, sexual health, and suicide.

For example:

Accidents: The death rate in young men in the 16 - 19 age range is 3.5 times higher than in young women in that age range.

Alcohol: Young men are the heaviest drinkers. Around 37% in the 16 - 24 age group have a drinking "binge" - that's 4 pints, nearly a bottle of wine or nine measures of spirits - on at least one day in the last week.

Suicide: Men have a suicide rate three times higher than females in 2000, but although the overall rate has fallen by nearly half in women over the last two decades, there has been a rise of 22% in men under 45 year old.

A little later on, I'll be looking at some initiatives that are underway with young men, both nationally and locally, to help tackle some of these factors.

Traditional male attitudes, if I can call them that, can also affect men's health: being seen always to be emotionally and physically strong; "proving you're a man"; being independent - and not asking for help; being "self-contained".

And then there are male behaviours, including making poor use of health services, and leaving symptoms longer than necessary before consulting a doctor.

With all this in mind, our policy aims are clear:

To improve men's lifestyle by reducing risk factors;

To encourage men to ask for help sooner, and to improve access to services tailored to their needs; and, not least

To employ effective and innovative methods of communicating health information, advice and messages, using helplines, internet and computer technology for example.

Identifying good practice, which can be (re)used in a variety of settings is, therefore, invaluable in dealing with the particular problems and outlook of young men.

This is why the work that was commissioned back in March 2000 represents an important step forward.

I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the Working With Men consultancy (Trefor Lloyd and Neil Davidson) and the HDA's Young People's Health Network for their work. in producing this report.

Trefor will be speaking specifically about the report shortly, so I won't dwell too much on the details now.

The range of work, across the United Kingdom, is impressive and representatives from some of the featured projects will be taking workshop sessions this afternoon.

I was also pleased to see that projects engaging with young men in school settings are featured, and that there is also a focus on young fathers. These, and the other projects featured illustrate well both breadth of activity and expertise that there is, and how important that we all tap into it.

The HDA is taking forward two other initiatives that will reinforce the work carried out for the report :

The Agency, as part of its wider remit to see what works to improve and promote health and to reduce health inequalities, has begun to develop an evidence base on men's health; and

Along with some of the leading organisations - the Men's Health Forum, the European Menís Health Development Fund and Community Health UK - the HDA will develop briefing on selected men's health topics.

These initiatives will provide further useful assistance to organisations working in the field.

I should also say that plans are being developed to disseminate the report's findings at a regional level - with a view to raising the levels of achievement of boys and young men both in school, and in out of school, settings.

Of course, we are all aware that there is a great deal of effective work being undertaken locally by a variety of organisations - some of which are represented here today.

I know that many of these projects are using innovative approaches to get messages across effectively.

I would like to look at some examples, and mention one or two initiatives by government, that are aimed at improving the health of men, and of young men in particular.

One of my first duties as Minister for Public Health, last June, was when I had the pleasure of launching the first Men's Health Week held in England.

Organised by the Men's Health Forum, of which our conference chair today, Ian Banks, is President, nearly 300 men's health events took place during the Week, several of which were aimed at young men.

It is important that we build upon the success of major national events such as Men's Health Week, and DH is supporting, and working closely with, organisations such as the Men's Health Forum and Community Health UK.

Earlier this year, the New Opportunities Fund announced nearly £1m of Healthy Living Centre funding for this Bradford-based initiative.

This initiative provides a range of health services for disadvantaged men throughout the Bradford area. Young men are one of the key target groups. Drop-in centres will be established, providing health advice and information, along with a range of health promotion activities, school and youth group work and a website.

In September we launched the first national suicide prevention strategy and it recognises that we need to have more understanding of why young men do not access health services generally, and mental health services in particular.

NIMHE will be commissioning a review of existing literature on how services can successfully access young men. It will draw on this review to establish a mental health promotion pilot targeting this group, with the support of the development centres.

I must mention briefly an initiative that many of you will already know about - the CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) telephone helpline, and website, aimed at young men between 15 and 35 years old. This initiative has been successfully rolled out from Manchester to Cumbria and Bedfordshire.

I won't say more about it now as Pippa Sargent from CALM will be leading one of this afternoon's workshops, "Successfully targeting young men". CALM is an excellent example of this.

DH is targeting boys and young men under 18 through ads in popular magazines and on local radio, encouraging them to choose themselves when to become sexually active and, when they do, to practice safe sex. The Sexwise freephone line receives 1.4 million calls annually, half from boys and young men.

In my home area of Manchester, the NHS Family Planning Service is working with the youth radio station, Galaxy Radio 102, to pilot a project to encourage the use of condoms among sexually active young people with the aim of reducing teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and embarrassment. Galaxy 102 condoms will be available from vending machines placed in locations chosen by local young people.

Doncaster and Barnsley HAZ funds a sexual advice service for young men and holds male only peer advice sessions at the Jigsaw Centre, Doncaster and within a project based in Barnsley.

As I mentioned earlier, binge drinking is particularly prevalent in young men under 25 years old. We are developing a National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and there is a consultation exercise currently underway that is seeking views on how best to tackle the problem. We are particularly interested in receiving views from those working with young men.

The National Drugs Strategy aims to reduce the number of young people using drugs, particularly Class A drugs and is supported by a National Helpline providing advice and information related to drugs and drug misuse.

Drug misuse is targeted in Wolverhampton HAZ's "Community Response to Persistent Young Offenders" project. This provides a range of educational activities to prevent further offending, chaotic drug misuse, absenteeism from school, and sees 140 young people a week.

Manchester, Salford and Trafford HAZ's "Lets Get Serious"project provides a support network for 160 boys and young men who are in danger of becoming marginalised from society due to educational underachievement, drug misuse and difficult behavioural problems.

Smokescreen, a project involving groups of young people from 11-18 years in producing a series of five films shown twice a day on Trouble TV - a youth network that has the highest youth profile in the UK. The films were shown free of charge by Trouble TV, who donated airtime worth approximately £800,000 to the project.

We aim to make the films widely available to the core target audience, via cinema and other TV channels and to get them shown and discussed in schools. 14,000 secondary schools teachers have been alerted about a resource pack, which will contain a video of the films and lessons plans centring around each story-line. To date, nearly 2,500 applications for the pack have been received.

Television adverts featuring Robbie Williams and newspaper publicity about football players with testicular cancer have helped to raise awareness in young men.

'Testicular Cancer: Spot the Symptoms Early', a free self-awareness leaflet produced by DH and Cancer Research UK, can now be viewed on the internet.

These examples bring me back to the main themes of this conference:

what works and why with young men; and

how best can we utilise that knowledge for the benefit of the individuals concerned and of the wider community.

The report that we have in front of us today provides a valuable resource on young men's health.

I am sure that it will benefit many working in this important field and help to inform successful initiatives in young men's health in the future.

In closing, I offer my best wishes to all the delegates here today. I am sure that this will be a successful conference, to mirror the landmark conference in 2000, and that in meeting its aims this conference will take the health agenda for young men a step further on.'

Page created on November 19th, 2002

Page updated on December 1st, 2009