Public health minister Caroline Flint has once again acknowledged the role of the Forum in putting the men's health debate on the political map.
'I am involved in a great deal of work with organisations such as the Men's Health Forum to consider how we can encourage men to think about their health, and we are also considering innovative ways to use pharmacies and others to reach hard-to-reach groups whose members often do not come into GP surgeries. I understand that men are particularly guilty of that,' she told the House of Commons in an adjournment debate on health inequalities.
She went on: 'We are looking at other venues where it might be possible to get men to think about their health. For example, we have done some fantastic work with the Football Association and some good work is going on in football clubs up and down the country to engage men. Although men exclusively do not go to football, that is one way we can reach them.'
She pointed out the anomalies in life-expectancy among men. 'People living in disadvantaged areas usually have much lower expectations of the health care system and of their own health. On a recent visit, we met a 49-year-old man who, despite breathlessness, did not think that he was unwell. He said, "I'm not illâ€”I'm just getting old". Yet he was not even 50. Here we are in Westminster, where a man will most likely live until 76. If we travelled east on the Jubilee line to Canning Town, eight stops away, we would find that on average men live until 69â€”a seven-year difference. A shorter life expectancy means that families are robbed of parents and grandparents. Between 2002 and 2004, there were 13,700 additional deaths among 30 to 59-year-olds in the most deprived local authorities compared with the rest of England.
The minister also discussed how changing female life-styles are beginning to impact on their health too. 'While we obviously need to look clearly at gender differences, there is some concern among womenâ€”we might be seeing some trends, as more women seem to be drinking more alcohol and smoking rates among women are also considerably highâ€”that we need to address health issues arising from the change over the past 20 or 30 years in terms of taboos that existed for my grandmother and for my mother over women's lifestyles. I am not saying that that was all right or that it was rather judgmental, but there are consequences. We are seeing, because of that, some evidence that issues that were often seen as male health problems are starting to emerge among women as well. We must consider how best to deal with that too.'
All in all, in the week that the Equality Bill received assent and became an Act, it was a powerful argument for a gender-sensitive approach to health. But is it, as the Forum asked earlier this month, really government policy?
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Page updated on December 1st, 2009