Living Well for Longer – but what about the men?

Thursday, March 14th, 2013 |

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recently launched Living Well for Longer, a ‘call to action’ to cut avoidable premature deaths in England. But Mr Hunt signally failed to mention a key high-risk group – men. Men are much more likely than women to die young (42% of all male deaths are under 75 compared to 26% of female) and to die from avoidable causes (65% of all avoidable deaths are male). This is a significant and tragic omission.

Living Well for Longer does contain some graphs which highlight sex differences in mortality. These clearly show that men are doing worse than women. But this glaringly obvious fact is not referred to anywhere in the text, nor in the Equality Analysis that accompanies the report (no longer available online). In the fact, the one gender inequality mentioned in the Analysis highlights young women’s higher risk of lung cancer due to smoking. That’s important, of course, but so is the fact that men are 60% more likely than women to develop one of the many cancers that affects both sexes and are 70% more likely to die from it.

A King’s Fund study that looked at smoking, drinking, diet and exercise found that men were more likely than women to participate in a combination of three or four risky behaviours. If the government and NHS are serious about tackling avoidable premature mortality, then action focusing on men’s lifestyles is urgently needed. Action is also needed to improve men’s timely access of primary care services and their use of screening (for chlamydia and bowel cancer, as well as the NHS Health Checks for 40-74 year olds).

The national suicide strategy recognises that action must be targeted at men because of their disproportionate risk – there is no obvious reason why men’s excess burden of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease should not also receive specific attention.

A failure to tackle avoidable premature deaths in men is not only a tragedy for the men directly affected. There is also a huge emotional cost for their families and friends and an economic cost for their employers and the NHS. It is essential that the NHS Commissioning Board, CCGs and Health and Wellbeing Boards, as well as the other new health organisations, quickly move beyond the rhetoric of tackling inequalities and start taking action to address one of the biggest.

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