Is a good woman behind every healthy man? Some surprising stats on men’s health.

It’s no secret that Australian men suffer from poorer health outcomes than women. For example, did you know?

  • Urinary incontinence affects up to 13% of Australian men (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006).
  • 30% of men sitting in a GPs waiting room report some type of urinary incontinence but only 31% of these people have sought help from a health professional (Byles & Chiarelli, 2003).
  • Men are more likely to suffer coronary heart disease, diabetes, exhibit alcohol and tobacco addictions, and die from cancer.
  • Urge incontinence, which is strongly associated with prostate disease, is fairly low in younger males and increases to 30% for those aged 70-84 and 50% for those 85 years and over (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006).

Data also reveals that men don’t access medical services as often as women, leading to worse health outcomes, economic loss and greater demands on health resources.

In 2009, MHIRC provided a submission to the Federal Government’s Senate Select Committee that provided some excellent background on what men’s health means:

"Men’s health is about wellness, not just illness. This approach has been described as strength-based or salutogenic, rather than pathogenic… men’s health is not just about male-specific reproductive illnesses such as prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction, nor just about the negative sociology of maleness associated with male suicide, men and relationship breakdown, etc.

A strength-based approach seeks to find out what is health-enhancing in the contexts of men’s lives: their physical, emotional, social, psychological, spiritual and cultural environments. As such this approach emphasises prevention rather than cure."

Some prostate cancer statistics

The prostate is the most common site of cancer in Australian men and the second leading cause of male cancer deaths after lung cancer. In 2010 there were 18,430 new cases of prostate cancer reported, and 3,235 deaths. The significance and extent of prostate cancer has recently gained attention with the recognition that these rates are higher than for breast cancer (13,970 new cases; 2,840 deaths).

Even when prostate cancer treatment is successful, it often results in serious and life altering complications. Comprehensive reviews report 54% - 75% of patients couldn’t maintain erections sufficient for sex, 6% - 16% had urinary incontinence at least once a day, and 3% - 14% experienced bowel urgency that was a moderate or big problem.

It is worth noting these complications aren’t limited to prostate cancer, and are also likely as a result of treatment for benign hyperplasia of the prostate (BPH), a common occurrence in males over 50. In 2004-5 procedures on the prostate or seminal vesicle included 21,110 transurethral prostatectomies (TURP), the majority of which (14,109) were for a principal diagnosis of hyperplasia of the prostate.

The answer? Marry smarter

Recently, Harvard University researchers made headlines all over the world with a study that overwhelmingly showed being in a committed relationship is great for men’s health.

It found married men were both mentally and physically healthier than single guys and tended to outlive them as a result. They were significantly more likely to detect prostate, lung, colorectal, and other forms of cancer in their early stages and to get treatment for the disease and were much less likely than singles to die of cancer.

Another study demonstrated men with wives were 46% less likely to die of heart disease than singles – also after taking into consideration diabetes, smoking, blood pressure, obesity, and other major risk factors. Those married to women more educated than they also enjoyed a lower death rate and risk for coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking and lack of exercise, according to a 2009 study.

Of course, the health benefits of being married decline dramatically if the relationship is on the rocks – an unhappy marriage can also undermine both partners' health. The stress and strain of marital discord undoes much of the positive effects marriage has on men’s wellbeing.

A study of 10,904 American married men, for example, found men who divorced were 37% more likely to die during the nine-year study than those who remained married. Similarly, a British study of 9,011 civil servants linked stressful relationships to a 34% increase in the risk of heart attacks and angina. And an Israeli study of 10,059 men found that stressful family relationships appeared to increase the risk of dying from a stroke by 34%.

For more information, please visit the Continence Foundation of Australia website at www.continence.org.au or download the latest UWS Men’s Health Resource Kit here.