- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

As this is the day when we pause to honor fathers, perhaps it’s time to go beyond slippers and ties and do something meaningful for the men we love. Like prolong their healthy lives.

A bill has been introduced in Congress to establish an Office of Men’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Since the early 1990s, many offices on women’s health have been created, and women clearly have benefited from them, said Scott Williams, a spokesman for the D.C.-based Men’s Health Network.

It would be great to have offices for men’s health that mirror those for women, he said. “It’s really a complementary approach — it’s combining men’s and women’s health together to ultimately build healthy families.”

The Office of Men’s Health bill, which has been introduced in the House and is expected to appear in the Senate, doesn’t ask for new appropriations, Mr. Williams said. Instead, it sets up a director for the men’s health office in HHS and asks that a report be made to Congress about the state of men’s health and the action steps that can be taken to improve it.

“We know that every dollar you spend on prevention ultimately saves about $4.91 in long-term, downstream health care costs,” Mr. Williams said. “So it’s our hope and our mission” to see an Office of Men’s Health included in health care reform.

Many men, he added, need to be encouraged to “take ownership of their health, and get in there early so that they can understand their personal health situation and their individual risks.” An Office of Men’s Health could “drive home that message,” leverage best practices, coordinate the now-disjointed state and local efforts, and “really reach out to men and their families about health.”

Here’s Mr. Williams’ kicker: “It’s really that premature death and disability of men … has plagued the health and retirement systems,” he told me. “As women enter retirement age 65 to 69, about 15 percent of them are widows because of the premature death and disability of men.”

Premature disability or death often means — in addition to personal grief and loss — financial chaos for the family, lost taxable earnings and social costs as government programs step in to help care for dependents left behind.

The perennial gender gap in life span — which has been as high as 7.8 years but was down to 5.2 years in 2005 — has an impact on federal spending. Thus, creating an Office of Men’s Health is not only the “right thing to do,” it should save money too, Mr. Williams said.

I quote Mr. Williams at length because his is a lonely voice. He and his allies count eight offices of women’s health in federal agencies, plus 10 more in each HHS region, but not a single office for men’s health.

President Obama in March created a White House Council on Women and Girls to make sure every agency “takes into account the needs of women and girls” in their policies, programs and legislative proposals.

Happily, his administration has responded favorably about the White House Council on Men and Boys that Alpha Phi Alpha, the historic black fraternity, called for. “We’re delighted that the White House is working and moving forward with what we hope is an initiative to address some of the issues dealing with African-American boys,” said Herman “Skip” Mason Jr., president of the 102-year-old fraternity. “As a father of a 6-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, like you, I want to make sure that there are well-educated, responsible and community-oriented men for them to look up to as they grow and develop,” he said in his April 17 letter to Mr. Obama.

Meanwhile, federal age-adjusted data show that men have higher mortality rates than women in most leading causes of death. In some categories — heart disease, cancer, liver disease, HIV/AIDS, accidental injuries, suicide and homicide — men’s death rates are 45 percent to 309 percent higher than women’s.

It’s just common sense that as America steps up its fight to preserve the health, well-being and longevity of its mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, it should make similar efforts for its fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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