They are more likely to die of heart disease, cancer and AIDS. They make up the majority of people who drink themselves to death and die in work-related accidents. And they are less likely to get good medical care.
If longevity were the sole criterion, there would be no doubt which is the weaker sex: Men live until 74 on average, five years less than women, and they die even younger if they are poor or nonwhite. Men die so young that by the time they are 36, women outnumber men, even though at birth there are more boys than girls.
The health gender gap is the focus of a new public health campaign, "Saving Our Men: A Wake Up Call to End America's Silent Health Crisis," which aims to galvanize men to take better care of themselves and to make health services more accessible to them.
The campaign is managed through a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant to the Center for the Advancement of Health, a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose mission is to translate research on health into policy. The concern for men's health grew out of the Kellogg Foundation's Health Care for the Underserved, an initiative to establish health care services in impoverished communities around the country.
"When we looked at the data, we saw we were missing a critical part of the community: men," said Henrie M. Treadwell, program director of health for Kellogg. "It's worse in the lower economic strata, but it's present in every category: Men are dying too soon."
The initiative will feature actor Danny Glover in radio and television announcements urging men to get checkups and be screened for silent but serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Men don't go to the doctor, public health researchers surmise, for some of the same reasons they don't ask for directions: They don't like to ask for help.
"Beliefs about masculinity and manhood that are deeply rooted in culture and supported by social institutions play a role in shaping the behavioral patterns of men in ways that have consequences for health," said David R. Williams of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, who wrote "The Health of Men: Structured Inequalities and Opportunities," published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Research shows that even when African-American men are covered by Medicare, they receive fewer preventive services and fewer surgical procedures.
"Sadly, the health status of African-American men may serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for other poor men in this nation and our global village," Treadwell wrote, in an editorial accompanying the report on the study.
The statistics for men, compiled by the Kellogg initiative from government sources, are startling:
Men have a higher death rate than women for each of the leading causes of death, with a heart disease death rate of 166 deaths per 100,000 men, compared with 93 per 100,000 women.
More men than women die of cancer, injuries, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, pneumonia, flu, AIDS, suicide and homicide.
Men visit doctors at a rate that is 25 percent below that for women.
An estimated two-thirds of alcoholics are men, and 80 percent of those with alcohol-induced liver disease are men.
Males are four times more likely to commit suicide, twice as likely as females to sustain traumatic brain injury and 10 times more likely to die of drowning, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
They are also less likely to use their seat belts, according to the CDC.
"Becoming a man in this society means living with the pain, ignoring the pain," said Treadwell, in an interview yesterday.
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.