Recently, The New York Times headlined an article about cancer the same week as the media headlined the findings of Second Harvest about those receiving food aid. Both highlighted womenís risks while neglecting menís risks. Their blindness to menís risks illustrates a rising social problem Ė a cultural blindness to menís health and welfare.
The New York Times headline read "New Cancer Cases Decreasing...But Minorities And Women Are Still Particularly At Risk" (March 13, 1998). The front page illustration featured only a woman, not a man and a woman.
In fact, according to The New York Timesí own graphs, these special risks applied to men, not women. The graphs showed men have lung cancer at almost twice the rate of women. Similarly, the colon/rectum graphs show menís rates were, in fact, more than 50% higher than womenís. And in the only other breakdown, menís prostate cancer rates were higher than womenís breast cancer rates for every year since 1991. The headline should have read, "But Minorities and Men Are Still Particularly At Risk." Menís risks are increased by our blindness to them.
In the Second Harvest survey, the media proclaimed gender bias against women who represent two-thirds of the recipients of government food aid. Who was invisible? The people who did not receive aid: the street homeless, approximately 85% of whom are men. (1)
The blindness to males at risk hurts our sons. Girlsí suicide rate is decreasing and boysí is increasing. As boys experience the pressures of the male role, their suicide rate goes from being equal to girlsí to being 600% as high as girls. (2) By age 85, the suicide rate for men is 1350% higher than for women of the same age group. (3)
Testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers in men 15 to 34. When detected early, there is an 87% survival rate. (4) We educate women to examine their breasts, but few parents even know how to teach their 15-year-old son to examine his testicles.
We justify an Office for Research on Womenís Health Ė but no office on menís health Ė because we claim womenís health research is neglected. But Medline computer searches have always found more articles on womenís health research than menís. (5)
More research is done on men only when the research itself may harm the subjects, as with drug research. Decades after the Tuskeegee Experiment killed only black men, we took some consolation in the progress reflected in President Clintonís apology for the racism, even as we all remained blind to the sexism. We remain unconscious to the fact that we also do more dangerous research on men in prison, men in the military, and men in general than we do on women for the same reason we do more dangerous research on rats than we do on humans.
Women are said to be the recipient of only 10% of the NIH budget, implying men are the recipients of the other 90%. True? Not quite. Menís health concerns constitute only 5% of the NIH budget Ė the other 85% is for basic research (e.g., DNA, cellular, transplant, etc.). In brief, menís budget is half of womenís.
We hear that women die of heart disease as often as men. We donít hear that the average woman who dies of heart disease is 75 or older (6) Ė by that time, the average man has already been dead for 3 years. (7) Prior to the age of 65, men still die from heart attacks at a ratio of almost 3 to 1 compared to women. (8) Even after the age of 85, menís death rate from heart disease is still slightly higher. (9)
We often discount the gap between menís and womenís life expectancy as due to biology. But in 1920, American men died one year sooner than women; today, men die seven years sooner. Currently, men die sooner of all 15 leading causes of death.
No right is more important than the right to life. What can we do to help men protect their right to life? We can start with attitude. We can ask ourselves why we call it "progressive" to care more about saving whales than saving males. We can educate, as to prevent testicular cancer. We can set up hotlines for men contemplating suicide. If life is the most important right, we can begin discussing an Equal Life Amendment.
There are 30 neglected areas of menís health and 30 days in June, the month in which National Menís Health Week and Fatherís Day fall. Last June, The New York Times did a 28-page special section on womenís health; (10) nothing on menís. Perhaps this June, the daily media can focus on one neglected area of menís health per day for 30 days.
None of this is womenís fault. Women are still calling the doctor for men. We can no longer expect women to hear what men do not say. Men are bottom-line creatures and, bottom line, men need to take responsibility.
1. Richard H. Ropers, "The Rise of the New Urban Homeless," Public Affairs Report (Berkeley: University of California/Berkeley, Institute of Governmental Studies, 1985), October-December, 1985, Vol. 26, Nos. 5 & 6, p. 4, Table 1 "Comparisons of Homeless Samples from Select Cities."
2. US Bureau of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics (hereinafter USBH&HS/NCHS), Vital Statistics of the United States (Washington, DC: USGPO, 1991), Vol. II, Part A, "Mortality," p. 51, Table 1-9: "Death Rates for 72 Selected Causes by 5-Year Age Groups, Race, and Sex: US, 1988." The exact rates are:
Suicide Rates by Age and Sex Per 100,000 Population
|Age ||Male ||Female|
|5-9 ||0.1 ||0.0|
|10-14 ||2.1 ||0.8|
|15-19 ||18.0 ||4.4|
|20-24 ||25.8 ||4.1|
3. USDH&HS/NCHS, Center for Disease Control, Statistical Resources, Vital Statistics of the United States (Washington, DC: 1987), Vol. II, Mortality, Part A. Here is the breakdown:
Suicide Rates by Age and Sex Per 100,000 Population
|Age ||All Races/ |
|85- ||22.1 ||66.9 ||4.6|
4. See "For Men Only," a publication of the American Cancer Society. Call 800-ACS-2345.
5. The research was conducted by Steven L. Collins, Ph.D., of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is contained in his paper entitled "The Amount of Biomedical Research Pertaining to Men, Women, and Both Sexes, 1985 Through 1993," dated March 25, 1994. The computer search was conducted on Medline, considered the source for medical research; it included a count of over 1,000,000 articles on male and female biomedical research between the years 1985 and 1993. Women's health research exceeded men's each year, never less than 114% that of men's.
6. See Lawrence E. Lamb, MD, "Men, Women, and Heart Attacks: Can Aspirin Prevent Heart Attacks in Women?" The Health Letter, Vol. 39, No. 1, January, 1992, p. 2. Dr. Lamb, medical columnist for North America Syndicate, Inc., is a former Professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Chief of the Clinical Sciences at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine.
7. The average man lives to 72.
8. As of 1992, the most recent data available is from the USDH&HS/NCHS, Vital Statistics of the United States (Washington, DC: USGPO, 1991), Section 1 Ė "General Mortality," p. 44, Table 1-10 "Death Rates for 72 Selected Causes, by 10-Year Age Groups, Race, and Sex: United States, 1987--Con." The National Center for Health Statistics puts all heart attacks in the category of "Major Cardiovascular Diseases." They are as follows:
Major Cardiovascular Diseases
|Age 25-34||Male ||14.4|
|Age 35-44 ||Male ||81.8|
| ||Female ||24.1|
|Age 45-54 ||Male ||227.4|
| ||Female ||88.0|
|Age 55-64 ||Male ||872.9 |
| ||Female ||303.0|
|Age 65-74 ||Male ||1528.1|
| ||Female ||863.4|
|Age 75-84 ||Male ||4084.2|
| ||Female ||2790.1|
|Age 85+ ||Male ||10,135.4|
| ||Female ||9153.0|
The other major category of heart problems, Diseases of the Heart," follows the same basic ratios of male-female deaths at various ages.
9. Over the age of 85, men die at a rate of 10,135.4 per 100,000 and women at the rate of 9153.0 per 100,000. See USDH&HS/NCHS, Vital Statistics of the United States (Washington, DC: USGPO, 1991), Section 1 Ė "General Mortality," p. 44, Table 1-10 "Death Rates for 72 Selected Causes, by 10-Year Age Groups, Race, and Sex: United States, 1987ĖCon." This is the most recent data available as of 1992.
10. The New York Times, Sunday, June 22, 1997, Section 14.