Mens Health Awareness Week (June 15-20th)

By Sara Picken-Brown

This week marks annual Mens Health Awareness Week. In light of the current health climate around Covid-19, it may come as no surprise that the pandemic features heavily as the theme for this years focus. According to mens health forum.org.uk research, men are twice as likely to die from covid-19 as their female counterparts and black men are twice as likely to die than white men. When we look at the biggest threats to mens health and the biggest killers of men overall, there seems to be a troubling trend in lifestyle choice and attitude that needs to be address. Lets look at some statistics to get a bigger picture of mens health in the UK, before we start dialling down to the covid-19 statistics: 

Overall Health Statistics from 2019 told us that:

  • 2 men in 5 die before the age of 75
  • 1 in 5 men die before the age of 65.
  • The biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide with 18 deaths everyday.

So outside of suicide, what is causing the huge mortality rate amongst British men? Sadly, all are life-style related, meaning these deaths are preventable. 


Here is the top four causes of death (2019/2020):

1- Heart disease

The facts

Heart disease is by far the biggest killer of men in the UK. More than 74,500 men die from the condition each year. Men with a waist measurement larger than 37inches (93cm)  are more likely to die of heart related issues or stroke, interestingly the recommended waist measurement 10 years ago was 80cm, so perhaps that is worth noting, Less fat around the gut and visceral fat around the organs has to be a better option.  Fat around the abdomen is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream so increases the risk of arteries becoming furred by fatty deposits called cholesterol – a process called atherosclerosis. This furring of the arteries restricts the flow of blood to the heart and can eventually lead to a heart attack.

2- Lung cancer

The facts

Lung cancer is the second biggest killer of men in Britain. More than 21,000 men die from the disease in the UK each year. Vaping has also show to have a detrimental impact of the respiratory system, but as yet the full impact of the habit is unknown.  Research has shown that if you stop smoking after 30 years your risk of dying from the disease is cut by 80 per cent over the next 15 years. Just cutting down on cigarettes, however, will not dramatically cut your chances of avoiding lung cancer.

3- Bowel cancer

The factsThis is the third biggest killer of men in the UK. More than 8,500 men die of the disease each year.

The warning signsPersistent change in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea or constipation, unexplained anaemia, a lump in the abdomen, unexplained weight changes, abdominal pain such as cramps or tenderness, blood in stools.

4- Depression and suicide

The facts

Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. The suicide rate among British men aged 15-24 has risen by almost 300 per cent between 1974 and 1997 – and is now the largest single cause of death among 15-34 year-old men.

The warning signs

Depression is characterised by one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, a loss of interest in usual activities and friends, a feeling of being unable to cope, a feeling that there is no point to life, disrupted sleep patterns, loss of interest in sex, loss of appetite, an increasing reliance on alcohol or drugs.


When it comes to their personal health and wellbeing, overall attitude and behaviour appear to be the key factors in mortality rates. Lack of preventative care, early testing, getting regular check-up and an inability to ‘talk’ about concerns with medical professionals, friends and family means men are dying and they don’t need to be. Which brings us to the covid-19 statistics, men being twice as likely as women to die from the virus. 

Here is what the Mens Health & Covid-19 statistics show

(the following was collated in the https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/news/our-own-fault-men-and-covid-19)  by Peter Baker, Men’s Health Consultant and Director of Global Action on Men’s Health stating:

Smoking

Smoking is likely to be of particular significance because of the long-term damage it can cause to the lungs. In China, 46% of men smoke compared to 1% of women, according to WHO data. In Italy, 27% of men and 20% of women smoke. In the UK, the ‘sex gap’ is smaller: it is currently 17% of men and 13% of women.

Drinking

There is evidence that alcohol consumption at hazardous levels can increase the risk of respiratory diseases. People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more likely to develop pneumonia, tuberculosis, respiratory syncytial virus infection, and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Increased susceptibility to these and other pulmonary infections is caused by impaired immune responses in people with AUD. In the UK, according to WHO data, the average man consumes almost five times as much alcohol as the average women. This potentially elevates the risk of severe COVID-19 disease in men.

Hand-washing

Men could be more exposed to COVID-19 because they are less likely to wash their hands. There are several studies looking at hand-washing after using the toilet. A study of the hand-washing practices of college students using restrooms in the USA found that 76% of women washed their hands compared to 57% of men and that 56% of women used soap compared to 29% of men.

Attitudes to the virus

A separate YouGov survey of over 2,000 adults in Great Britain conducted on 24/25th March concluded that men are more likely to downplay the severity of the virus. Nearly a quarter of men (24%) inaccurately believe coronavirus is ‘just like the flu’ compared with just 16% of women. Similarly, men are more likely to believe that coronavirus only affects older people and those with underlying health conditions at 14% versus 8% of women. They are also less inclined to believe official Government advice such as staying at home to stop the virus from spreading, with 10% saying this is false compared with 2% of women.

Delayed presentation

It has been reported in the media that men’s outcomes following COVID-19 infection could be worse because they are delaying seeking medical help. It has been suggested that men have been arriving in hospital in China with more advanced disease, for example. While there are no known published studies on this issue, it is widely believed that men generally use health services less effectively than women. It is highly probable that men’s behaviours and beliefs, as well as their innate biology, are a factor in their susceptibility to COVID-19 infection and mortality. 

The racial divide

Statistics on people and population within the UK shows that ‘Black people are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as white people. Even after factors like social deprivation are taken into account.’

  • Black men are 4.2 times more likely to die than their white counterparts
  • Black women are 4.3 times more likely to die than white women. 

Globally speaking there seems to be a common trend in socio-economic factors playing a major part in health and mortality rates.  Once these factors were taken into consideration, men and women of Black ethnicity were 1.9 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than those of White ethnicity.  The ONS conclude: ‘These results show that the difference between ethnic groups in COVID-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained.’ The analysis comes ahead of a review into how different factors – including ethnicity, gender and obesity – can impact on Covid-19 outcomes. Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health Director for London will lead the review. 

To conclude, I believe it is clear that a gargantuan shift in attitude, habits and personal responsibility amongst men overall is required to ensure the rates of mortality drop; drinking and smoking less, exercising more and eating healthier are key steps to changing these alarming statists. By talking more openly and bringing awareness to the topics that are ‘uncomfortable’ to talk about; bowls, emotions and erections, by normalising these conversations, the chances of early detection when there are issues will increase and this will save lives.  Men and women are all part of this conversation, talk to friends, fathers, uncles, brothers and our young men; encourage more open conversation and awareness around habits, change what needs to be changed and men need to take responsibility for personal health and longevity. 

By starting with transforming the personal health landscape, this allows for the bigger conversation around inequality, the racial health divide and policy changes to have a strong foundation. 

As a USNavySeal Chief once told me, ‘You can’t eat and elephant in one bite, so chunk it down to bite size pieces,  do what you must today so you can do what needs to be done tomorrow’.