Why Men Don’t Take Better Care of Their Health

According to new data, men in our area aren't earning any awards for their health. A local doctor offers tips on how to get them to care.

If you’re wondering which is the weaker sex, or more specifically which is less healthy, it may not surprise you that men hold the title. At least, it’s true for men in Southeastern Pennsylvania. According to data released yesterday, based on the results of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey (SEPA), the National Institutes of Health confirm that men are less likely to get medical care than women, and that they are more likely to maintain unhealthy behaviors, like smoking and excessive drinking. In the U.S., life expectancy among men is consistently lower than among women.

This news does not surprise me at all. In my years of taking care of primarily women, I clearly see how this is the case.

I think much of this goes back to the hunter-gatherer roles in which we started. Men left to go out to hunt while the women stayed behind, gathering up the bounties of the land, caring for the children, and preparing for their return. While our roles have certainly expanded as we have evolved, traditional society roles still prevail much of the time. Men go off to work, and are expected to provide financially for a family. Women, whether they work or not, remain in charge of and are responsible for the care of the household. This includes looking after the well-being of its members.  So they take their kids to the pediatrician, and they go themselves to the gynecologist. Men, for the most part, are not charged with the role of family-health maintenance, and therefore don’t develop a connection to the health-maintenance system. They typically get involved only when they have to, after sustaining an injury or suffering an illness. Health maintenance is not part of their routine.

The state of our economy also complicates this situation. With approximately 15 percent of men in Southeastern Pennsylvania being uninsured, as compared to 10 percent of women, men often avoid going to the doctor, or taking medicine prescribed to them, due to the cost.

But I don’t think cost is the whole picture, and neither is a lack of time. Do men consider it a sign of weakness to have to go to the doctor? Are they afraid of learning of their own mortality? Their imperfections? That their body is failing them? I suspect that’s part of it. Denial is a very strong motivator for avoiding the doctor.

Not only does avoiding the doctor prevent health maintenance, it also allows for bad behavior (think Weight Watchers and “weighing in”). It’s all about accountability. As a result of not being forced to own up to obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, men develop the diseases associated with these unhealthy lifestyles: hypertension, diabetes, even cancer. These are all silent killers, many of which could have been prevented or treated with routine health maintenance. A little nagging if  you will.

In my alternate role as a wife to a busy husband, I am constantly nagging him to go to the doctor for his check up, take his medicine, eat right, and exercise. Maybe it’s not marital bliss that allows married men greater longevity than their single counterparts, but instead the accountability provided from a wife, or significant other, who cares.

While society’s ailments cannot be solved by marriage alone, it’s interesting to me that this is yet another example of how men benefit from the woman in their lives—even if she is (as I am told constantly) annoying.


Jennifer Chalfin Simmons, M.D., F.A.C.S., is the chief of breast surgery and director of the breast program at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. She is also recognized among the best physicians in the region as a Top Doctor in Philadelphia Magazine.

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