Men's Habits, Not Biology, Cause Early Death
May 24, 2004

(USA TODAY) -- Listen up, guys: You may be stronger than women, but you die, on average, about seven years earlier.

It might not have to be that way. Increasingly, research implicates behavior, not biology, for men's shorter life spans. Men are more likely to die violently or accidentally, and they're less likely to seek medical care when they don't feel well.

"Men have been taught to be unresponsive to pain and to symptoms of illness," says Jean Bonhomme, a public health doctor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Changing men's health behaviors is nearly as tricky as changing their biology. But Bonhomme, founder of the National Black Men's Health network, is part of a growing effort seeking to narrow the survival gap between men and women.

Last week saw two new developments in the emerging men's health movement: the debut of a peer-reviewed scientific journal, The Journal of Men's Health and Gender, and what sponsors say is the first men's health conference convened in the USA.

Like the conference, the journal's first issue covers a variety of topics, from osteoporosis in men to whether gender influences communication between patients and doctors.

Bonhomme and other supporters of the men's health movement note that what's good for the man is good for the woman.

"Gender-blind medicine serves neither men nor women well," says Donna Stewart, chair of women's health at the University of Toronto. Stewart, who wrote the lead editorial in the new journal's first issue, also serves on its editorial board.

Wanda Jones of the Office of Women's Health at the Department of Health and Human Services spoke on the opening panel at the men's health conference. It was held in Arlington, Va.

"It hurts men as much as it hurts women when we continue to assume that one size fits all," Jones said afterward. "It's time to bring us together to recognize and acknowledge and embrace the differences and be prepared to address them."

That will take more than medical research, Jones says. "Beyond the biological, we've got to look at some of the sociological and anthropological bases. The culture of being female is entirely different from the culture of being male."

Stewart can attest to that. She and her fellow researchers interviewed more than 1,000 hospitalized heart attack patients to see what they most wanted to know about their health. The women wanted to know more about high blood pressure and chest pain and how to take care of themselves.

The men's main question? Whether a heart attack would impair sexual performance.

"We have to remember that men are performance-oriented," Bonhomme says. "We're rewarding men for performance at the expense of their health."