My role


We're missing an open goal

For the last couple of games of the English football season, the URL of the MHF's website malehealth was on posters in the toilets throughout the premier league and elsewhere. Watching as well as playing sport has the potential to make men healthier argues MHF CEO Peter Baker.

Pies posterSport is awash with money. Sky pumps in millions every year through its broadcast deals. Businessmen like Sir Allen Stanford look set to make international cricketers as wealthy as Premiership footballers and global corporations spend billions in sports sponsorship to get sports stars to promote their brands.

Why? To reach male customers, of course.

Yet despite sport being a hook deeply buried in male psychology, so far it has failed to find a clear place in national public health policy.

As a consequence, it has failed to live up to its potential as a key playmaker when it comes to solving men's health problems - although Football Foundation and Sport England cannot be knocked for the efforts they make in getting men and women off their backsides and exercising.

Wider role

But sport - and sports stadiums - also have a wider role in transmitting health messages to men and even helping to deliver health services.

There is some great work already happening out there in the community. The Centre for Men's Health at Leeds Metropolitan University has done pioneering work at rugby grounds by taking health checks to men. Oldham Primary Care Trust and the Greater Manchester Sexual Health Network are succeeding at upping levels of chlamydia screening in young men by working with local football and rugby clubs.

But this work is currently patchy and is not yet able to make a real impact on the poor state of men's health. Men still have a lower life expectancy than women (77, compared with 81), and a higher incidence rate for cancers and suicide. They are more likely to be overweight and, each year, more than 120,000 men in the UK die prematurely.

We know men's health habits are difficult to change. They are more reluctant to admit problems, less likely to go to the GP or pharmacy and just don't seem to want to participate in public health improvement programmes as much as women. That makes them more challenging from a policy and social marketing perspective. But this means we should redouble our efforts to crack the problem.

Sport has several assets

We know sport has several assets which could be brought in to do this: brands and stars that can inspire and persuade; facilities that can act as routes into the health system or places to actually deliver services; and media that can act as channels to men.

But we need to know more and, ultimately, do more. To this end, the Men's Health Forum has teamed up with the Federation of Stadium Communities to launch a new debate about sport and health. We've called it 'A Game of Two Halves', because we think sport and health policy has only reached half time in its journey and now is the time to review strategy for the second half.

On October 30 2008, we are hosting a symposium at Manchester City FC to analyse a number of case studies and debate exactly where and how sport and health should go from here.

There is a legal and moral duty for those in healthcare and sports to come together and make progress on this issue. The money is there: the NHS's gender equality duty has been designed to achieve equitable health outcomes for men and women, and £12bn of public money is being invested in the 2012 London Olympics.

But we need to know lessons are being learnt. We need more consistency in programme delivery and better quality assurance for funders. Most of all, thought, we need a long-term national strategy melded to long-term funding.

Page created on May 30th, 2008

Page updated on December 18th, 2009