Raise awareness for men's health


Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 4:43 p.m.
I had a discussion with a concerned citizen recently about the importance of getting out the word about the sad state of men's health in the United States.
Included in the discussions were comments about how reluctant men are to talk about their health concerns with the women in their lives, and the importance of having male health care providers available for this task.
As a member of the Greater Gainesville Black Nurses Association Inc., an organization that set health care for men as one of its goals 10 years ago, I understood the point being made.
The Black Nurses Association, at the beginning of its health fair era, held separate workshops that not only provided males as facilitators, but also sites that drew blood for the PSA screening test that is used to detect prostate cancer.
These workshops were held along with others that dealt with parenting concerns, women's health issues, mental health, nutrition and exercise.
What we learned from the health fair participants was that there are times and certain topics that bear a separation of the genders, i.e. women's health vs. men's health, but for the most part, the common diseases and conditions, although different outcomes, symptoms and disease paths might exist, were more common to male and female alike than they were uncommon.
It is more important now than ever to sound the alarm about the status of health for men of color because the disparities are numerous.
Mental health issues, drug abuse, incarceration and high morbidity (death) from hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and infections such as HIV/AIDS are wreaking havoc on the black male population and that of other people of color.
In some states, the pattern for change has already begun. I found information on a workshop in North Carolina titled ''It's Time to Make a Difference.'' This conference will be convened this Saturday as the North Carolina Men's Health Summit.
Obviously the concerns that will be addressed will focus on the men of North Carolina. But the impact, topics and overall conditions in North Carolina mirror those of other states in our nation.
There are alarming statistics that support the need for more intervention to save the lives of our men.
The death rate for all diseases is much higher for black men than it is for women. Up to 40 percent of all black men die from cardiovascular diseases while 21 percent of their white counterparts die from the same conditions.
Black men live 7.1 years less than men in other racial groups. The incidence of oral cancer is much higher in black men and they are more likely to die from the condition than other men. It is still alarming that black men are five times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS than anyone else.
And a do-something-right-now-topic, which gives most of us a jolt, is the weight problem. Obviously the men share this unfortunate state with the rest of us because this condition is on the rise throughout our nation.
Among black men, 44 percent in our nation are considered to be overweight and 24 percent are obese, meaning their weight is 100 pounds higher than the norm.
I'll ask the men to answer this question for themselves: When was the last time you made and kept a dental appointment? Dental care ranks high as one of the areas of care that is lacking in the lives of men of color.
This is unfortunate because many preventable and treatable oral diseases are missed that would be found during a routine visit.
So what are the barriers? Some are financial, but all of them aren't. In more cases than need be, there is a lack of knowledge about the importance of dental care.
Men seem to be more likely to send the children and their spouses, rather than go themselves.
It is not very macho to admit to the fear that is present when the noise of the drill comes with the dentist chair. In these situations, teaching becomes a major tool in overcoming this disparity.
Are we at the point of needing a national initiative dedicated to bridging the gap between the need and the attainment of health care for men?
Over the years, there have been legislators who have tried to move the nation toward a national office dedicated to men's health. The latest move was initiated by Sen. Mike Crapo of North Carolina, who introduced a bill in 2005 that would establish an Office of Men's Health.
The focus would obviously be on the disparities in health attainment for men, but the office would operate on a national level much like the National Office for Women's Health.
Why don't you contact our congressional leaders and ask them to check on the status of such a bill and to support it for the sake of our men?
I would like to applaud the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. for taking on this important issue this year during King Week 2007 activities. Your acknowledgement of this problem is a testimony to its importance.
It is time now for each of us to make a male the target of our undivided attention. Give as little help or as much help as is required to support them in their move toward healthier lifestyles.
Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing, Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, Fla. 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to news@gainesvilleguardian.com.

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