My role


Not just about flogging your memoirs

Prezza's bulimia, Blair's man boobs. MHF president Dr Ian Banks has been reflecting on men with health problem they're not supposed to have.


Ian BanksRecently the media was full of the John Prescott bulimia story. You could not open a newspaper without a full page spread of the ex-Deputy Prime Minister, full face staring back at you. The fact he was promoting his autobiography was evidently lost in translation, vital for anything Mr Prescott says.

He was variously called a hero for 'coming out' with what is after all 'a woman's disorder'.  In fact, according to the Eating Disorders Association (EDA) men constitute between 10 and 20 percent of all eating disorders, and increasing. Nobody is really sure whether this is a real increase or just that more affected men are doing a Prezza and turning up at the doctors. Tragically, as with the female equivalent, suicide is never far away for these men.

Bulimia is not the only transgender condition either. When asked what kills them most, testicular cancer or suicide, most young men answer testicular cancer which actually kills around 60 men each year. Taking your own life, on the other hand, will claim over 3,000.

It would probably surprise these men to further learn that breast cancer will see off twice as many men as testicular cancer.  While anything to do with the testes is by definition masculine, breasts belong to women. Man boobs are not celebrated. Malicious glee followed the revelation of Tony Blair's pectoral endowment but male breast cancer is anything but funny. Possibly because of late presentation, survival rates are horribly worse than for women although the incidence is obviously much lower.  If you put Prezza's bulimia and Tony's man boobs together, there is a recipe, literally, for disaster.  Male breast cancer is following obesity on its inexorable upward path. 

On trial for being a man

Robert Johnstone is a well known figure in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) voluntary sector. He took part as an expert witness for the defence, in a mock 'court case' where a man was put on trial for being a man. The Inquisitor tried, unsuccessfully, to have the man sent down on possession of the Y chromosome.

At one point he chastised Robert for having a 'woman's' disease.  'Real men', he bellowed, 'don't get RA'.  The audience (jury) laughed.  Robert, despite it all being done in fun to make a point about perceptions of masculinity, was hurt.  A great deal of his problems came not just from the effects of the condition but from a poor public perception of who should have any particular condition. Sympathy for men with RA, he told the jury, was thin on the ground including that from health professionals.

I recently had an attack of gout in my right knee. I stumbled around like a demented kangaroo, yelling with each step. My dog homed in like a heat seeking missile. I was now a one legged kangaroo and hopping mad to boot. My daughter asked what the problem was:  'Gout?' she cried incredulously, honing her empathy skills before entering medical school.  'Bishops get that from drinking port'.

Suffering from something you have no right to have is always a problem but it can sell books and might even make enough for another jag.  But imagine if you had bulimia and man boobs.  Hell, you could do an American lecture tour and go for European President.  Beats selling off the NHS to the highest bidder hands down.

Page created on May 1st, 2008

Page updated on December 1st, 2009