Movember – is it really about men’s health?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 |

Movember is almost upon us once again. Within a few years it’s become one of the biggest events in the UK health calendar and it succeeds in raising millions from an army of participants in an increasing number of countries. By any standards, it’s a huge achievement based on a simple and brilliant idea (grow a moustache for charity) that has clearly caught many men’s imagination. So why does it still leave me feeling rather uneasy? Is Movember actually as valuable as it clearly believes itself to be?

Virtually all the money raised in the UK goes to one beneficiary – Prostate Cancer UK, the biggest charity addressing prostate cancer. Movember’s support has enabled the charity to expand massively over the past few years and it now provides an impressive array of services and oversees important research programmes.

But herein lies my main concern with Movember – prostate cancer, while clearly a major and escalating problem, is simply not the most significant men’s health problem in the UK or, indeed, in any other country. Movember badges itself as a men’s health campaign but it is focusing on a single disease that is responsible for just 4% of all male deaths and, even more significantly, accounts for under 3% of all premature male deaths (‘premature’ being under 75 years of age).

If Movember really wanted to ‘change the face of men’s health’, as its advertising says it does, then it should surely focus on at least one of those diseases that are killing men prematurely in much larger numbers. The most obvious candidate for action is cardiovascular disease (CVD) which each year prematurely kills some 32,000 men in the UK – that’s over a quarter of all premature male deaths.

What’s also important about the big killers of men, like CVD, is that they are in many cases preventable, unlike prostate cancer. They are also problems which, generally and again unlike prostate cancer, can be straightforwardly diagnosed and for which there are treatments of proven efficacy. If Movember had invested its millions in, for example, improving the prevention and early diagnosis of CVD in men, it could well have had a much bigger impact on men’s health.

Movember has also remained wedded to what is now a very outdated view of men’s health – that it is only about male-specific disease. Most of us who have been active in the field over the past 20 years had moved well beyond that limited perspective by the end of the 1990s.

And that brings me to my final concern about Movember and men’s health in the UK. I doubt very much that Movember has sought any advice about how and where they should be investing their resources beyond talking to Prostate Cancer UK and a few urologists. Movember has certainly never consulted the wider range of men’s health organisations, advocates and researchers who are active in this field.

It is not too late for Movember to change direction, of course. And if it did, and began to tackle some of issues that really are significantly affecting men’s health, nobody would be more delighted than me.

Comments are closed.