Men’s Health Week 2016: Putting Men and Boys on the Map


Thursday, June 16th, 2016 |

The second Men’s Health Week in the U.K. was launched in London in 2003 in a venue that will seem strange to many U.S. readers—a betting shop. This was chosen not because the organisers, the Men’s Health Forum (the charity I was CEO of at the time), wanted to encourage men to gamble away their hard-earned money. Rather, we wanted to launch the Week in a place where many men feel comfortable and where we could reach them with health messages they might not otherwise see.

Ladbrokes, the company that owned the betting shop, helped by handing out our men’s health information packs to thousands of their male customers across the U.K. The impact, which was significant, was measured through the number of calls made to a dedicated telephone helpline service. The fact that Pat Cash, the Australian tennis player who had previously won Wimbledon, took part in the launch ensured that we also achieved significant media coverage.

Men’s Health Week launched in U.S.

Men’s Health Week is 22-years-old this year. It began not in the U.K, but in the U.S. in 1994 following a Senate Joint Resolution to establish the Week by Senator Bob Dole. President Clinton signed the bill on May 31. The Week was linked to Father’s Day in the U.S. (it always ends on Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June) and became an international event in 2002 when it was first marked in the U.K. It has since been adopted in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, and beyond. The Week provides an opportunity for a wide range of organizations and individuals to draw attention to the poor state of men’s health, organize activities that engage men, and advocate changes to health policy and practice. In short, it puts men’s health on the map both nationally and globally.

Why the Week is needed

Now in its third decade, Men’s Health Week remains necessary because many key health outcomes are still worse for men than women (there is a five-year global gap in life expectancy, for example), men take more risks with their health (such as smoking, consuming too much alcohol, and driving dangerously), and delay seeking help, especially for mental health problems. Men have also been largely overlooked by health policymakers; only three countries have had national men’s health policies (Australia, Brazil, and Ireland) and, at the global level, the focus of the World Health Organisation and other agencies has been on women and children.

Service providers, particularly in public health and primary care, have also been slow to meet men’s specific needs. Health promotion campaigns seldom target men with ‘male-friendly’ messaging and the opening hours and appointment-booking systems of primary care services often create practical barriers that inhibit men’s access, especially if they are in full-time work. Schools and colleges have also not taken the opportunity to educate boys and young men about their health and wellbeing and how to use services effectively.

Men’s Health Week 2016

This year, the men’s health organisations that lead Men’s Health Week (which takes place from June 13 -19) are focusing on a wide range of issues. In the U.K, the Men’s Health Forum is highlighting stress; Men’s Health Forum Ireland’s theme is ‘Men United—for Health and Wellbeing’ and a wide range of organisations are being encouraged to work together; in Australia, the focus in 2016 is ‘Health EleMENts’, encouraging communities to start conversations about ‘the elements of life that build health and life’s purpose; and, in Denmark, the Men’s Health Society is raising the issue of men, loneliness, and the importance of relationships to health and wellbeing.

The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation is inviting organizations, groups, or individuals to join in by promoting men’s health to employees, customers, suppliers, or friends and family, and share their activities on their website. In the U.S., the Men’s Health Network has declared June to be Men’s Health Month and is urging men and women to wear blue on June 17 to ‘raise awareness about the importance of male health and to encourage men to live longer and healthier lives.’

At the global level, Global Action on Men’s Health (GAMH) will be drawing attention to the inequalities in men’s health, particularly those between men in different regions and countries. It will be calling for sustained action to address men’s health—alongside continuing efforts to improve women’s health—by both national governments and international organisations. GAMH believes that the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed upon last year by the United Nations, create a new opportunity to take account of gender and its impact on the health of both sexes.

Achievements and next steps

Since its launch, Men’s Health Week has been important in raising the profile of men’s health in many countries, it has created new partnerships between organizations with an interest in the issue, it has generated thousands of local events and activities the reach men in communities and workplaces, and it has helped to raise funds for activities that take place throughout the year.

But Men’s Health Week is currently observed only in relatively few high-income countries and not yet in those with the poorest men’s health outcomes. Part of GAMH’s role is to stimulate the wider development of men’s health organisations and activities, including Men’s Health Week. It is seeking to build the networks and alliances, as well as to set out the evidence and make the case for a greater focus on men’s health that will enable this to happen.

Get involved

I urge anyone who is concerned about the health and wellbeing of their father, son, brother, husband, partner, or male friends and colleagues to use the opportunity provided by Men’s Health Week 2016 to do something that will make a difference. If the Week is already recognised in your country (listed below), get in touch to find out how you can get involved. If you are based elsewhere, consider what you can do to kick-start some action on men’s health. This need not involve going anywhere near a betting shop.

Key contacts

Australia – www.menshealthweek.org.au

Canada – www.canadianmenshealthweek.ca

Denmark – www.sundmand.dk

Ireland – www.mhfi.org

New Zealand – www.menshealthnz.org.nz

United Kingdom – www.menshealthforum.org.uk/mhw

United States of America – www.menshealthmonth.org

This blog was first published by the Altarum Institute on 14 June 2016.

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