On a completely different note (about men's and women's health)

On a completely different note (about men's and women's health) February 8, 2011

Three things about February annoy me: my birthday (who celebrates it after 50 except as a reminder you’re not dead yet?), weird weather (below freezing, ice and snow in central Texas!), and the annual Go Red for Women campaign by the American Heart Association.

Don’t get me wrong; I care about women’s health and am supportive of Go Red for Women month.  My mother died of heart disease at age 32–when I was only 2.  So what’s my gripe about Go Red for Women?

It’s not that the AHA and other organizations such as the American Cancer Society support women’s health; it’s that there’s nothing similar or even close for men.  And yet men die, on average, 5 to 6 years younger than women. 

During February one often hears the mantra “More women than men die of heart disease.”  This was said again on the TV show 20/20 this past Friday evening–by a female cardiologist.  Barbara Walters acted so, so, sooooo surprised.  (She’s so good at that.)

The problem is that this statistic is misleading.  In it, “heart disease” includes heart failure in old age–what people used to call dying of “old age.”  What the statistic isn’t telling is that the vast majority of people who die of heart attacks (as opposed to congestive heart failure) are men and many of them in their prime. 

All year we hear about breast cancer and women’s heart health.  How often do we hear from major non-profit health-related groups about men’s health?  Rarely.  How often do we hear or read about men’s health in the media?  Almost never. 

I’ve heard many explanations for this, but none of them make sense to me.  People say women are more prone to pay attention to their health and women go to the doctor more.  All the more reason to advertise information to men–to get them to pay more attention to their health and go to the doctor more.

Yes, I know that women’s heart disease is harder to diagnosis.  But what doctor doesn’t know that by now–after almost a decade of information about it from the AHA? 

During December I received 8 e-mail fund-raising letters from the AHA.  Every one except the 8th featured a story about a woman.  Not one featured a man’s story of heart disease and recovery.  All women’s stories.  I can only assume the AHA has discovered it’s easier to raise money that way.  I don’t know how else to explain that.

I am NOT asking for less attention to women’s health.  I’m asking for equal attention to men’s health.  I urge men and the women who love the men in their lives to contact the AHA and the American Cancer Society and talk to them about doing more publicly for men’s health. 

Did you know that almost as many men die of prostate cancer as women die of breast cancer?  And yet the former gets miniscule attention compared with the latter.  Again, I’m NOT calling for less attention to breast cancer; I’m calling for more attention to other cancers (including ovarian cancer which is extremely deadly but gets very little attention these days because of the overwhelming attention to breast cancer).

I’m always uncomfortable with unfairness and it seems to me there is a fundamental unfairness in the way non-profit and government resources are focused on women’s health to the near exclusion of men’s health. 

I don’t care so much about myself as I am very health-conscious.  I care about boys and young men.  I know a 27 year old man (hardly more than a boy!) who had a heart attack.  I know young men that age who have high blood pressure and are headed for heart attacks unless they get help. 

So please join me in my Quixotic campaign to boost information about and knowledge of men’s health.  The best way is to e-mail the AHA and the ACS and other non-profit health-related organizations and ask them to put more of their resources into men’s health.  And write your congressperson about an office for men’s health parallel with the already existing office for women’s health in the Department of Health and Human Services.  No such office for men’s health presently exists.  And men continue to die on average about 6 years younger then women and continue to suffer heart attacks at much more alarming rates than women.

According to the AHA’s own web site heart attack risk calculator I am four times more likely to suffer a heart attack than my wife.  And that’s with no risk factors for either of us (except age).  So how can the AHA and its surrogates keep saying “More women than men die of heart disease?”  Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “There are lies; there are ****** lies; and there are statistics.”

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