Maj. Waters is a public health nurse assigned to the Army Public Health Center
It is June, and whether you knew it or not, it is Men's Health Month. On behalf of the Army Public Health Center, I wanted to take this opportunity to write a quick note about men's health to our brothers and sisters across the Army.
So, in true Army fashion, here is your BLUF: Men, we just aren't doing enough when it comes to our health, full stop! If you take nothing else from this article, that is the bottom line.
I am not referring to physical fitness here - instead, the issue is our practice of brushing our health concerns aside and not seeking healthcare when we should, coupled with a tendency to engage in behaviors that can be harmful to our overall health.
Research has proven, and I have personally seen the following: men are much less likely to visit a medical provider to discuss and seek help for health conditions than are women. Before the men reading this article start high-fiving one another for being able to "suck-it-up," let's establish that failing to seek medical help when needed is NOT a good thing!
Maybe the culprit is a misguided belief about masculinity, a desire to convince ourselves that the pain we've been feeling "isn't a big deal," or lying to ourselves by trying to ignore something into non-existence. Regardless of the source of this reluctance, men don't seek healthcare nearly as often as they should, and that is a problem.
Making matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented that men are more likely than women to exhibit what health professionals refer to as high-risk behaviors. Examples include the use and abuse of substances like alcohol, nicotine products, illicit drugs and anabolic steroids. In addition, a willingness to take unnecessary risks leading to injury, or choices, like participating in risky sexual activities – think unprotected sex.
Some basic math:
Admittedly, I am not a mathematician - however, I can certainly add. The combination of not seeking healthcare, plus a tendency toward high-risk health behaviors, likely equals a higher number of adverse health-related outcomes in men.
The CDC has found that men are more likely to experience injury related to risk taking and a host of chronic illnesses, like coronary heart disease and hypertension, compared to women of the same age.
Protecting your health should be gender neutral. However, women are much more likely to get regular exams and testing to address their health concerns then men. STI testing serves as one great example of this. Specifically, female soldiers under age 25 receive annual testing for many common STIs. In contrast, male soldiers are only routinely tested for one STI - HIV - once every two years. Even if not mandatory, men should request screening more often – not just for STIs but several other health conditions.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force publishes evidence-based recommendations regarding routine health screenings for men depending on their age. I encourage you to take charge of your health by at least getting the recommended screenings shown in the Table. Remember though, regardless of the age suggested, it is okay to discuss these conditions with your medical provider!
Suggested Health Screenings for Men adapted from USPSTF
At any age (younger Soldiers, this includes you!)
- Obesity Men should be screened for obesity regardless of their age
- Depression- Get screened if you feel depressed for longer than two weeks. If you experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide, do not wait for two weeks – instead, seek help immediately!
- STIs, including HIV - Both sexual partners should be screened for STIs before having sex for the first time. Also seek screening if you have sex with anyone other than your partner, you believe your partner is having sex with another person, or if you have a concern regarding your sexual health.
- High blood pressure - Have your blood pressure checked every 3-5 years up to age 39, then annually thereafter. Men with risk factors for high blood pressure should be screened annually regardless of age.
Starting age 45 and after
- Colorectal cancer -At age 45, start being screened for colorectal cancer
- Lung cancer - At age 50, if you have a 20-year smoking history and currently smoke or quit less than 15 years ago
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm -If over age 65, and you have smoked at any point in your life, you should be screened for this!
Good health care is not just about these screenings, however. In addition, you should also remain up to date on your immunizations, and talk to you provider about whether there are additional tests that might be appropriate for you. And ALWAYS see your health care provider anytime something about your health doesn’t seem right.
By avoiding high–risk health behaviors and ensuring regular and open communication with your health care provider, male Soldiers can reduce problems for themselves, their family, and their unit.
The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.