Cumbrian men accused of 'unhealthy disregard'
Last updated at 12:29, Friday, 17 June 2011
Professor John Ashton is Cumbria’s director of public health. He feels men’s working lives can be a factor in their health problems, although not as much as their attitudes.
“The kind of occupations that men have done have often been hazardous,” he says.
“Not just in terms of accidents but in things like exposure to dust leading to lung disease. We’re still seeing the legacy of that in west Cumbria.
“Manual work isn’t really manual anymore. Men are not expending the calories they used to at work but they carry on drinking the calories they used to.
“Men are perhaps less health-conscious. They don’t seek help early. I think that may be particularly true of certain parts of Cumbria. The farming community is very macho and stoical – they just get on with things. Men think health is a women’s issue. They think they’re invulnerable.”
This is National Men’s Health Week. Whether it will persuade the nation’s chaps to take better care of themselves remains to be seen.
Men’s lifestyles tend to be less healthy than women’s. Men tend to be more reticent about seeking medical attention.
And some men argue that illnesses which affect them are publicised less than those which afflict women. Breast cancer has a higher profile than prostate cancer. But do these body parts symbolise the sexes’ attitude to their health? One upfront, one hidden away.
In the UK women live an average of four years longer than men. Smoking is the biggest single reason. Then there’s alcohol. In 2008, average weekly alcohol consumption in England was 16.8 units for men and 8.6 units for women.
Diet and exercise are also big issues. Sixty-six per cent of men are overweight compared with 57 per cent of women.
The rate of premature death – classed as people under 65 – is one and a half times higher among men. For men who die aged 25 to 64, the biggest killers are cancer and circulatory diseases.
A look at Dr Alex Docton’s morning appointments list suggests men are not seeking as much medical attention as they should.
“Woman. Woman. Woman. Woman. Man. Woman. Child. Woman. Woman. Woman. Man. Woman. Woman.”
It appears that Cumbria’s men are either very healthy, very busy, or very reluctant to get advice.
“That ratio is fairly typical,” says Dr Docton, a GP in Carlisle. “Women tend to be more in tune with their bodies. They listen more. They pay attention.
“It’s a good idea for men to be more aware of their health. You can’t do anything about gender and age but you can do something about your lifestyle. I would encourage men over 40 to have a blood pressure check. Men are quite reluctant to come forward with symptoms if they find them a little embarrassing.”
Many men prefer the anonymity of the internet. In 2009, 37 per cent of men searched the internet for health information. National Men’s Health Week aims to harness men’s interest in the web and mobile phone applications.
“There are some websites that are very helpful,” says Dr Docton. “As long as you know where you’re getting your information from. I would never use a website to diagnose. People should always consult their GP. But once you know which tree you’re barking up, you can use reputable websites to find out more.”
Men may be reluctant to speak to their doctor about something they regard as embarrassing. And just walking into a room can be difficult too.
Margaret Hunt runs a Slimming World class in Carlisle. Only one of her members is a man.
“There’s a general feeling that men do want to do something but very often they’re not quite sure how to go about it,” says Margaret. “Men do well in the classes. They like competition. But very often they put more emphasis on their car than on their own bodywork. I don’t think men have as much contact with doctors, partly because they don’t have children. But a lot are fearful of what might be found.”
Margaret’s man is 42-year-old Andrew Megson. “I’ve lost two stone in three weeks,” he says. “I was about 25-and-a-half stone. I once lost five stone in five months at WeightWatchers but you just go back.
“I used to be a roofer. And I played football: five-a-side and 11-a-side. My best mate I used to play football with, he was the same sort of size as me. He passed away five years ago. He had a heart attack at 45.”
Andrew thinks women care more than men about health because of the impact on their appearance. “It’s more a fashion thing for women. They think they have to look good.”
For Andrew, finding the courage to walk into Margaret’s slimming class was hard. “It was daunting. I think that’s why more men don’t do it. If there’s a bloke there it’s not as bad.”
Andrew thinks there’s another reason why men are reluctant to tackle weight problems. “They don’t want to admit that they’re overweight. They’re scared of knowing. If people don’t go they can kid themselves. But it doesn’t go away unless they change their lifestyle.”
Lynda Stock runs Slimming World classes in Cumbria. Her three classes have 160 members. Just 11 are men.
“A lot of men tend to come with a family member. They don’t want to go by themselves into a room full of women. The men that do go love it. They tend to do better than the women. I think they’re just more focused.
“Younger men do a lot of team sports. When they get older they stop playing the sports and carry on with the social life. Before they know it, they’re overweight.”
One of her men is Frank Beattie, a 65-year-old former sales rep. He says: “The usual thing with a man is ‘There’s nothing wrong.’ Unless someone says something, most men accept the shape they are because that’s the way everyone else looks. It has to get really drastic before a man will do anything about it.”
For Frank, that drastic something came in 2005. “I used to work up to 18 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. I would drive up to 1,200 miles a week. I’d stopped exercising because I was so busy.
“I’d sometimes go to McDonald’s and buy three burgers and buy a box of five chocolate eclairs from Marks and Spencer. That was lunch.”
It took the ear-splitting wake-up call of a heart attack and bypass surgery to change his lifestyle. As well as eating more healthily, Frank is now a regular gym-goer and walks at least three miles a day.
“I can go in a pub and order a mineral water. It doesn’t embarrass me at all. Some men would never do that. The key person to look after your health is yourself.”
Statistics still show that women are more likely to help themselves. In Cumbria a higher percentage of women than men take part in the bowel cancer home-screening programme.
But some men argue that male afflictions are less publicised, and not treated as well, as those which affect women.
There are national screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer but none for prostate or testicular cancer.
Testicular cancer is relatively rare and survival rates are high. Prostate cancer kills 10,000 men in the UK each year. In 2007, 99 Cumbrians died from it.
But medical authorities say trials have not shown clear evidence that screening will reduce deaths or help people live longer.
John McCarthy, 66, of Greystoke, near Penrith, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. Diagnosis was followed by a two-month course of radiotherapy at the Cumberland Infirmary. John then helped set up North Cumbria Prostate Cancer Support Group.
“Women [over 50] are routinely screened for breast cancer,” says John. “There’s no equivalent for men. Men have to be responsible for their own health. The tests for prostate cancer are difficult. Men find it embarrassing and invasive. But any man over 45 should be going to their GP and asking for the necessary tests, even if they don’t have symptoms.”
John feels there should be more publicity about prostate cancer, partly because men need a push to persuade them to seek advice.
“Women are responsible about their bodies. They go to the doctor when there’s a problem. In terms of cancer they’re very aware. It’s a man thing to say ‘I’m strong enough to cope.’”
Cancer and heart disease are among men’s major killers. Complacency, ignorance and fear of bad news are also high on the list.
First published at 11:29, Friday, 17 June 2011
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk