- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The average U.S. man dies almost five years before the average woman, but a medical journal says that is not biologically inevitable, calling the disparity a "silent health crisis."
The finding that women generally outlive men "is not new in any way," said David R. Williams, professor of sociology and senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. "There is a lot that we can do to turn this around and to improve the health of men in our society."
Mr. Williams authored one of the articles in this month's special edition of the American Journal of Public Health dedicated to men's health.
Men have higher death rates than women for each of the 15 leading causes of death except Alzheimer's disease. The reason, Mr. Williams said, is complex.
"I focus on the fact that the higher risk to men is not limited to one or two conditions, but it is really across the board," he said.
According to the study, men are much more likely than women to be incarcerated, homeless or unemployed. Men are also more likely to work in dangerous jobs, and men account for 90 percent of all job fatalities.
The study also links the disparity to cultural definitions of what it means to be masculine, hindering men from projecting any sense of vulnerability including seeking health-protective behaviors. Men are less likely see a doctor or follow medical advice.
Men are much more likely than women to smoke and twice as likely to consume at least five drinks of alcohol a day, and more likely overall to participate in a broad range of risk-taking activities.
Also linked to cultural behavior is how men cope with stress.
"Both men and women experience a great amount of stress in our society," Mr. Williams said. "But women are much more likely than men to seek social support from others," while men withdraw inwardly.
Women have been outliving men for the past century. But despite a narrowing gap in the statistics, men can expect to die five years earlier on average.
Mr. Williams said there are two things society can do to increase the life span of the average man. The first, he said, is surprising because it has little to do with medicine. He recommends improving education for boys.
"Boys who fail in school are more likely to go down the path of anti-social behavior, including criminal behavior and substance abuse," he said.
His second recommendation is to redesign the workplace to reduce occupational injury and occupational stress.
The study also urges the medical community to increase health outreaches targeted to men.
"We need to target men, and in this targeting really find the cultural meaning of manhood," Mr. Williams said.

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