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Men doing less to avoid swine flu

Men are less likely to follow the official guidance on swine flu than women according to research published in the BMJ.

man sneezingNearly 1000 people were quizzed about their behaviour following the massive publicity around the new strain influenza, A/H1N1 (aka swine flu). Just over a third (37%) had changed their behaviour in some way. The behaviour changes about which they were asked were:

  • Washed my hands with soap and water more often than usual - 28% had done this
  • Increased the amount I clean or disinfect things that I might touch, such as door knobs or hard surfaces - 17.3%
  • I have discussed with a friend or family member what we

    would do if one of us catches swine flu - 15.2%

  • Kept away from crowded places generally - 3.7%
  • Reduced the amount I use public transport 2.8%
  • Reduced the amount I go into shops - 1.9%
  • Deliberately cancelled or postponed a social event, such as meeting friends, eating out, or going to a sports event - 1.1%
  • Taken time off work 0.7%
  • Kept one or more of my children out of school or nursery - 0.4%.

Of these, the first three (hand washing, disinfecting and discussing) were official 'recommended' behaviours. The other behaviours which were not officially recommended (but could have been the sort of behavioural conclusions drawn from the media coverage) were classified as 'avoidance' behaviours.

Men were less likely to follow the recommended behaviours than women - 40.7% to 34.5% - and less likely to practise 'avoidance' behaviours - 5.9% to 3.8%.

Strongest predictor: ethnicity

Under 24s were more likely to follow recommended behaviours than older people and families with children under 4 were far more likley to follow them than those with no children or older children. However, the strongest predictor of behaviour change was ethnicity, with participants from ethnic minority groups being more likely to make recommended changes.

MHF CEO Peter Baker said: 'The finding that men are less likely to follow official advice than women will probably come as no surprise to anyone but this research highlights the challenge we face in reaching men with health information.

'Anything that is perceived as scare-mongering or unnecessary nannying is less likely to work with men. This research demonstrates how important it is to take gender differences into account when developing public health information - a point we have made to the Department of Health about swine flu.'

Page created on July 13th, 2009

Page updated on December 1st, 2009