By John Kerr 08/10/2017

Kiwi blokes have a lower life expectancy than women, are more likely to fall foul of accidents and certain diseases, and are less likely to seek medical advice. It’s time to sort out men’s health, say a group of New Zealand doctors.

Prof David Baxter and colleagues tackle the topic of men’s health in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal.  In their editorial ‘Seven things you need to know about men’s health‘ [subscription only] they say it is time to acknowledge gender differences in healthcare and a plan a “gender-orientated response to improve men’s health and wellbeing at an individual or population level.”.

Read more about the research on

When talking about ‘mens’ health’, conditions like prostate and testicular cancer are the first things to jump to mind, but, as the authors point out, there is a range of negative health outcomes where men are consistently taking the lead. For example, men are more likely to suffer earlier heart disease – likely due to lifestyle risks such as drinking and diet.

The authors also scratch out a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation on sex-specific funding in New Zealand’s Health Research Council grants, finding that for every $1 spent exclusively on women’s health research, men’s health research received $0.06.

Managing machismo

Summing up the inequalities, the article notes that ideas around masculinity play a large role in health disparities.

Men’s health is partly a product of biology, social expectations and systemic discrimination variable of access and quality of care, as well as a consequence of masculinity (a set of male attributes, behaviours and roles): the invulnerable approach to diet and activity, and the ‘man up’ approach to health.

To improve men’s health, it is beneficial to raise men’s health awareness by enabling men to define what health means to them, improve access to healthcare resources, particularly avoiding environments, terminology or judgments that might be negative about masculinity. Nevertheless, where masculinity entails adverse activities including substance use, risk behaviours and violence, being non-judgemental may be damaging.

Moving men’s health forward in New Zealand

So what’s next? Prof Baxter and his co-authors point out that Ireland, Australia and the UK have established men’s health forums and put in place national men’s health policies. These approaches can offer a “solid foundation” for policy development in New Zealand, they write.

In order to address health inequities, education is necessary but insufficient to improve such practices. Policies that change environments in ways that reduce damaging social determinants of health may be far more effective.

More immediately, they also flag the launch of the new Centre for Men’s Health, based at the University of Otago and headed by Prof Baxter, which will focus on:

  • Optimal health outcomes for all males throughout the lifespan
  • Promoting health equity, recognising specific health inequalities for Māori and Pacific Island males
  • Developing proactive strategies for preventative health for males, particularly regarding chronic disease and injury
  • Building and disseminating a strong evidence base on male health through research, knowledge exchange, and education, and using this to inform policies, programmes, and initiatives
  • Promoting better access to healthcare for males through initiatives and tailored healthcare services, particularly for disadvantaged and at-risk groups