Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Six exercises every man should know

For technical reasons we can't currently embed videos on the main malehealth site so here you'll find the videos to accompany our fitness coach Scott Pearson's series on exercises every man should know. For the original article, click here.




Horizontal (or inverted) row

The plank

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why men won't go to high-street pharmacists

The RPSGB - the professional organisation for high-street pharmacists - is claiming male machismo is responsible for 40,000 deaths a year. They cite their research showing that 59% of blokes only seek medical advice if they are ‘very ill or in great pain’. A lot of women will be sceptical of that in the manflu season.

Even if we are as reluctant as the survey suggests, is it really the result of machismo? One in seven men were honest enough to admit that they didn't go the GP as they were afraid of what they might be told. Feeling scared and admitting it are not exactly macho traits and the real number of men who feel like this is surely much higher.

The RSPGB solution to this is to tell us 'to snap out of the ‘big boys don’t cry’ mind-set and start taking health problems seriously.' Now I'm a big supporter of the RSPGB's work and share their view that getting more blokes to use pharmacists is a good way of overcoming our reluctance to go our GPs but I'm not convinced that shouting at people is the best way to get them into your shop.

The main reason men don't consult their pharmacist as much as we would like is that pharmacists still aren't very male-friendly. Few make it obvious - through a simple poster, for example - that they offer health advice and few make it obvious that they are places that welcome men on an equal basis to women. My local store smells like a perfume factory and is packed with products and posters aimed at women. From the street, it is virtually impossible to see a single product aimed at men.

Yes, men are partly responsible for their own health problems - that's hardly headline news - but should shops be blaming their potential customers for not using them or looking to get their marketing sorted?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Has the time come for decent online pharmacies?

Like junk mail and cold calling, spamming works on the 'there's one born every minute' theory of marketing. US researchers have finally put a number on this - apparently spammers get about one response for every 12,500,000 emails they spam out. It's a pathetic return - a lot less than the 2% return on junk mail - but if you spew enough spam, there's still money in it. And who cares if the so-called health product you're selling is made of blue paint and pesticides.

But the real number of online punters is far higher than this. New research from Pfizer, the drug company who make Viagra, suggests that one man in ten has bought prescription drugs online without a prescription. Obviously Pfizer have their own agenda - patents expire in 2011–2013 and they want to maximise their return - and the sample was small (less than 1000) but all the same this backs up our findings on malehealth.

Our survey earlier this year suggested that three out of every five men would consider buying drugs online without a prescription in the right circumstances. The trouble is at the moment they're likely to be buying junk - two out of three online pharma products are counterfeit. Given this potential demand, perhaps rather than telling men not to buy online we should be creating the environment to enable them to do it safely. What do you think?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama? Statins? We're all looking for the quick health fix

Over a month since my last post. Must be all the excitement around Barack Obama's election in the US. Or is it Harry Redknapp's arrival at White Hart Lane? Both have certainly been good for my health.

And health is apparently near the top of the new president's agenda. In an article on the MHF website, My Plan For A Healthy America, you can read how he's planning to bring 45 million uninsured Americans in from the cold. He doesn't pull any punches identifying the 'strangleholds' and 'market manipulation' of drug companies and insurers as part of the problem.

The pharmaceutical industry - the US's most profitable industry - is reportedly worried that Obama's plans could be bad for their profits

But I doubt we'll see any of the big pharma companies going under anytime soon. Not while so many in the media are only too happy to report without caveat on drug trials that suggest we should all be dosing up on cholesterol-lowering statins whether we need them or not. The full story is on malehealth.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Henry Paulson's plan is perfect for work addicts

Are you happy as a bailed-out banker who won't have to sell his Porsche? Yes, work addicts love a global financial crisis as much as US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will love the House of Representatives if they back his 'rescue plan'. Seriously, if you're prone to work addiction, an economic crisis is the sort of time it's easy to slide into it. That's the ever topical feature on malehealth this month.

By the way, as this is a health blog am I allowed to ask just how a country that thinks it can't afford a national health service can find £380,000,000,000 to underwrite Wall Street's gambling debts? That sort of money would be welcomed I'm sure by the 45.7 million Americans who have no health insurance.

And on the subject of the USA and tenuous topical links to our stories, which president brought a little-known erectile problem to the nation's attention? Who else but Bill Clinton. When Paula Jones filed a sexual misconduct lawsuit against the sax-loving statesman, she suggested he had Peyronie's Disease - a condition in which the penis bends that affects perhaps 1 in 100 men. Dr Raj Persad explains this month.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Michael Carrick's injury no surprise to malehealth

If you're regular malehealth reader you may have been expecting Michael Carrick to fracture a metatarsal bone in his foot this week-end. The England and Manchester United midfielder fits the profile exactly. Want to know who will be next? It's not too late to get the inside story on the great metatarsal mystery

Monday, September 15, 2008

Are you enjoying longer GP opening hours?

More and more GPs are opening for extended hours. According to the Department of Health, 45% of practices are now offering something more than just the good old 9-5. But there are still areas of the country where nothing much is happening. What's your experience of extended opening hours. How many GPs are now open on Saturdays and how many are offering extended hours on one, two, three or more days a week? Let the MHF know.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Malehealth manages to mention Murray's midnight miracle

Still recovering from Andy Murray's sensational semi-final win over Rafael Nadal at the US Open? A four-set victory over the man who won in Paris, won at Wimbledon and won in Beijing is just the sort of thing British tennis needs to get us all picking up the racket again.

If you're tempted then you'll want to check out one of the questions answered by our fitness columnist Sales Sharks coach Scott Pearson in this month's column: what are the best exercises to get fit to play tennis? I'm 41 and haven't done much sport for ten years. Just what you need.

We've also got an interview with the last British male to make a Grand Slam final outside the USA. John Lloyd made the Australian Open final in 1977, but I must admit that this interview is about his gut problems and probiotics! Still, if your stomach's churning with excitement over Murray's miracles …

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Men are hypocrites about sex? That's not news!

Yesterday we reported the government's survey showing public support for its idea of making paying for sex illegal. We highlighted the fact that many men have hypocritical attitudes to prostitution: happy for their male relatives to pay for it, unhappy for their female relatives to sell it. Overnight one of our American readers took us to task over this. 'Men are hypocritical about women and sex?,' she thundered sarcastically. 'Ya sure? Oh the shock.'

What do you think? Are we daft to even raise this topic? Will men always be hormonally hewn hypocrites and half-wits about this subject or is a sex industry that doesn't exploit men or women possible?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Essential reading for Cristiano Ronaldo

Wow, where did August go? Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo must be thinking the same thing. One minute the talk was all of his supposed transfer to Real Madrid. The next, the season begins and he's still recovering from a knee operation and unable to play for anyone.

I don't know if the UEFA European Club Footballer of the Year is a regular reader of malehealth but he won't like this month's lead feature which is about the great metatarsal mystery. Osteopath Don Blyth explains why the humble foot-bone, first put on the map by David Beckham, has become the bane of so many professional footballers lives. His conclusion is that on his return Cristiano is a prime candidate for a metatarsal injury himself. Why? Well, it's nothing to do with those fancy-dan boots. Check it out.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Is the US's HPV vaccine safe enough?

The US Food and Drug Administration has released documents suggesting that in the two years since the HPV vaccine Gardasil was introduced in the country 18-20 women have died as a result. During that time 8 million women have been vaccinated. That suggests the chance of dying from the vaccine is very roughly around 1 in 500,000.

You've 28 times more chance of dying from Gardasil than of winning the UK national lottery. It's not quite as simple as that since the UK is using a different vaccine - Cervarix - for which I haven't seen the side-effects data but you see the point.

The vaccine protects women against HPV which causes cervical cancer. The disease can already be detected using a smear test while HPV transmission can be reduced by practising safe sex.

But let's put these considerations aside for a moment. The big question is: vaccine programmes only work if pretty much everyone is vaccinated, is it acceptable for George Bush - or Gordon Brown - to ask citizens to run a 500,000-1 risk?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Celebrity +hot topic +sex = internet hit

Angelina Jolie +twins +dollars. Cristiano Ronaldo +slavery +diving. David Cameron +smug grin -policy. We are told that the best way to get your stories picked up on the internet is to make sure there's plenty of search-engine friendly words in there. Celebrity names. Hot news topics. Tenuous links to sex.

So even if your story is about double-entry book-keeping (if such a thing still exists in the spreadsheet age), you need to begin the first paragraph with: 'Rather than joining a late night love nest at the Hague with Radovan Karadžić or reading Hello! magazine, the accountants of Barack Obama, Jenifer Aniston and Madonna will be concerned about the hottest, sexiest development in double-entry book-keeping'. Could we do that sort of thing on malehealth? Or would you find us just a little less trustworthy when you had an important health question to ask?

OK, stories on the drug-related song lyrics of French president Nicolas Sarkozy's former nude model wife Carla Bruni might be going too far - even if they are vaguely health-related - but we could do more with the website (and with the Men's Health Forum's own website). The technology they're built on is stone age by the standards of the web and, very limited resources permitting, we're looking to make improvements. Have a look at the site and let us know what you'd like to see.

As well as the site itself, I'd particularly like to know whether we should be trying to get our content out there on other people's sites whether as links, news feeds or via social networking portals. It might help to get the site better known but it takes time. Would our limited time be better spent developing our articles so that when someone does type a health concern into a search engine, we've got material on it? That's a question I can't make my mind up on. What do you think?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Media have jumped the gun on prostate drug

Prostate cancer can be a killer. if you have the advanced form of the disease you could be dead within a year. No wonder everybody in men's health and cancer is so excited about abiraterone - a drug that appears to have achieved spectacular results.

"Within three months I have had men stop their morphine and say I'm going to see my daughter living in Australia," said lead researcher Dr Johann de Bono. But should we get this excited about a drug that at this stage has only been tested conclusively on 21 men, none of whom have taken it for more than two and half a years. Larger trials are going on but they haven't reported yet and even if everything goes swimmingly, the drug won't be on the market before 2011.

I think the media have jumped the gun here and the reason is the myth of the magic bullet. One of the great attractions of drug breakthrough stories is that they seem to offer a super cure from science fiction. But there is no magic bullet for health - it's always a question of balancing a number of factors and that's far more difficult to write about in a headline-grabbing way. The rest of us need to understand the media's shortcomings or we are we going to be frustrated by false hopes time and again.

Among other recent cancer research, there was another small study - 22 volunteers this time - which the media didn't report suggesting that eating a portion of broccoli a week might interfere with the development of prostate cancer. No false hope there. Broccoli is available now not 2011.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The challenge of health campaigning

News today that so many of us are scared of the sun highlights the challenge for health campaigners.

The sun is the reason we and the planet are here yet it seems many of us think that any exposure to it can cause cancer. In fact, we need some sun to help the body manufacture vitamin D.

Health campaigners are always looking for a simple message since simple messages are more likely to succeed yet good health is usually more complicated. It's about balance. Alcohol is a good example: a little alcohol is good for you - too much is a killer.

We wrestle with this on malehealth all the time. We want to keep it simple but if the message is not just simple but simplistic it may not help health at all. Sadly, with the possible exception of packing up smoking, good health is rarely as simple as eat X, do Y, don't do Z. And that's why health promotion - or social marketing to use the current vogue term - is more complicated than selling soap powder and must be founded in the reality of the way we all live.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Work is my Catch 22

Wow, that was a long break between posts. If you've read this month's main feature on malehealth - The main cause of men's ill health in the developed world - you'll probably figure out why.

I think work is at best overrated and at worst a killer. My next project is a book on men's health. It's going to be a shortish book as it will be aimed at men who aren't, if truth be told, particularly interested in their health but know it makes sense to take a bit of notice. That's most of us, really. In a short book you need to think about what you're going to focus on before you start writing and that's what got me thinking about work.

The book will mention our genetic inheritance but as no reader will be able to do much about that I won't be banging on about it. I'll be looking at the the things we can change - the lifestyle aspects of health. But in a short book, which ones should you cover? So I started thinking about the things we spend most time on. Logically, by making these aspects our lives more healthy, perhaps we can effect the biggest changes in our overall health.

So what are the things we spend most of our time doing? Well, work's one, sleeping's another and perhaps eating and drinking is a third. If we can develop a healthy approach to the things we spend most time doing, the rest might follow. The basic principle, at least, seems to work. Certainly, if you can get a healthy attitude to work, a good night's sleep and a half decent diet, you'd be well on the way to doing what needs to be done to minimise your chances of joining the 120,000 men who die prematurely every year. What do you think?

What I need to do now is to collect all this thinking together with the latest data and research and turn it into the sort of book worth reading. Trouble is that is going to involve a lot of hard work. And that's not healthy. It's my Catch 22.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I've got a cousin called Kevin

Fantastic news for men in Australia. No, it's not Shane Warne's victory with the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. But their new prime minister Kevin Rudd has announced a men's health policy to coincide with this year's Men's Health week. Blokes will be encouraged to have check-ups at their GPs and money has been made available for prostate cancer, bowel cancer and suicide prevention. Rudd, of course, is leader of the Labor Party (never mind the spelling, look at the policies.)

Now, we do have some of these things already in the UK thanks to our own correctly-spelt Labour government. Indeed, from the gender duty to bowel cancer screening to the minimum wage and trade union rights, this government has done a fair bit to improve the health of men but what we don't always have here is a sense of a coordinated policy. It doesn't cost a lot of money, it's simply a question of political will. The perfect way to get a Labour government that's in danger of losing its direction back on the rails again. Come on Gordon, it's time to copy Kevin.

Let's name the real guilty men

Yesterday at the mock trial staged by the Men's Health Forum to kick-off Men's Health Week, Man was found guilty of crimes against his own health. Forget the attitudes of health professionals, forget social attitudes, forget the way we bring up boys, forget the genetic factors. No, it is all our own fault. Guilty

Who were the fools responsible for this verdict? A 'jury' of health professionals, policymakers, NGOs, politicians and journalists who ignored the expert evidence. You can read about that evidence here but let's talk about real cases - the cases of men on the malehealth website.

Take John Walker and the prostate cancer that nearly killed him: I told my GP, I respected his decision, but if I'd followed his advice I'd probably be dead. Or Paul and his violent childhood: I remember traumatic events from my childhood and very little else. Only a chump would say that these men are to blame for what happened to them.

If we really want to name the guilty men it should be the members of the jury that allowed this terrible miscarriage of justice. This verdict condemns Man to the same rotten deal he's always had from the NHS.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bond or Brent? Sherlock or Spidey? Who would you put in the dock?

My web-posts are like buses - you don't see one for weeks etc etc. Anyway, for Men's Health Week next week, the Men's Health Forum will be putting man on trial. Why? Because of one simple fact: men live shorter, less healthy lives than women.

Who is responsible for this? Men themselves? Or something else?

Which man would you put in the dock charged with neglect of his own health? James Bond, Spiderman, David Brent, Indiana Jones, Inspector Morse, Sherlock Holmes, Phil Mitchell, Rocky, Jim Royle, Homer Simpson. Or someone else.

VOTE NOW (and read more about the debate) here.

Stone age attitude to nutrition research?

There was a lot of interest last week in the story suggesting that a 'Stone age' diet is good for your heart. The study, by the Karolinska Institute, was criticised on the NHS Choices site for being relatively small with a high drop-out rate. Indeed, says the site, 'complete data' was available for only six people. None of which was in the media, of course, who were mainly interested in printing pix of Raquel Welch.

Now I like this section of the NHS site and I'm all in favour of the public knowing exactly what research is behind the headline. We bang on about this a lot of malehealth too. But in this case, while the research may not have been great the science behind it is worth considering. An exclusively caveman style diet would deprive you of key nutrients like calcium so while we wouldn't advocate that but keeping your diet simple with plenty of fresh food is good for you - and you could come away from the NHS Choices thinking this is no more than a fad diet. The problem with such a diet is that it is cheap, easy and does nothing for the profits of the greedy fast-food and processed foods industry. The government has frequently been accused of pandering to big business. Don't tell me they'd doing this in their nutrition advice too.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I don't know what to think. Do I need smart drugs?

Much furore this morning about smart drugs. One day could we all be popping pills that will allow us to exploit our untapped mental potential and become better versions of ourselves? Or will the corporations and the state soon have the tools to medicate us into docile, unquestioning workers who never stop, get tired or even moan?

Drugs that directly affect the brain's performance - so called cognition enhancers - are already here and could become 'as common as coffee' in decade or two.

I've had depression for about thirty years and I have, at times, taken medication for it. I have a bad memory which drives me mad, get very frustrated when my brain tires and starts making mistakes and generally think I'm not intelligent enough to do the things I want to do. In other words, on the face of it I'm the ideal candidate for smart drugs so why am I so reluctant to take them?

I can't decide what I think - a very human reaction to a new dilemma. But if I took the tablets would I really suddenly know my own mind?

What do you think about cognitive enhancers? How could they change our society? Would you take them?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wise words on prostate problems

Prostate cancer continues to be controversial in its diagnosis and treatment but the one thing that nobody is arguing about is the ignorance of the British male. Apparently in the USA, 70% of men know what their PSA level is compared to just 6% here. (If you don't even know what a PSA is, check out our Prostate Problems section) I learned this statistic today on Radio 4 Case Notes presented by MHF patron Mark Porter. It was all about prostate problems.

Now I must admit I'm one of the 94% who don't know their PSA level. I'm not sure that's the issue. It says more about effective campaigning by drugs companies than healthier living. But what is important is to know what the prostate is and what are the risks of it killing you. This is the key fact: prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK accounting for 1 in 4 of all new male cancer diagnoses and it's on the rise. There's loads more on malehealth including advice from men who have been there. You can also download the Radio 4 podcast.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Most computer keyboards dirtier than toilet seats? My arse.

Every week on malehealth we publish a statistic of the week. This week I was intending to publish the Which survey showing that our computer keyboards were dangerous to health. I was reluctant because the story had had so much publicity but given that so many blokes use computers and that Men and Work is the theme of next month's Men's Health week, I felt I had no choice.

But when I looked more closely at the research I found a very different story to that which I'd seen reported. In fact a mere 33 keyboards were tested and of these just 4 keyboards were hazardous to health (that's 12%). Only one of these was dirtier than a toilet seat. Not nice but all the same not exactly invasion of the killer keyboards.

Should we be disappointed in Which? for publicising such a slim survey or the media for going bonkers about it? Unfortunately, health coverage in the mainstreem media suffers from this sort of thing time and again. The solution? Read our article: Medical Fact or media fiction? How to tell if research is reliable.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tough luck for Scott and the Sharks

Sport is cruel. Sale Sharks crashed to an unexpected home defeat at the week-end which saw them miss out on the end-of-season play-offs. We're doubly disappointed on malehealth as Sale of course are coached by our fitness columnist Scott Pearson. Tough luck, Scott. Clearly the players aren't reading your columns closely enough!

Still the future still looks pretty good for the 2005-06 champions with Andrew Sheridan, Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth all being selected for the England squad to play in New Zealand next month. They'll line up alongside Matthew Tait who joins the Sharks next season.

It's also worth remembering how far the team have come. Sale is a town of just 50,000 people yet on Saturday the Sharks played in front of over 10,000. Very impressive and ten times the sort of crowd they used to attract as an amateur side in the early 90s.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Why are we so unhappy about our bodies?

It looks like malehealth readers agree with Warwick University psychologist David Giles that men's magazines are damaging male body image. In this month's snap survey, only one respondent in three was happy with his body and only 11% thought that men's mags improved our body image. (The full survey is here.)

I expected men to be less happy with their bodies today than they were 10 or 20 years ago but even so I was surprised that the figure was as high as two men in three. This straw poll certainly suggests to me that an approach to health information that is built around so-called aspirational images of the male body beautiful doesn't improve men's health. I think that speaking frankly and realistically as we do on malehealth is better.

Of course, you'd expect me to say that but there's man talking on malehealth this month, Denis Taylor, who has struggled enormously with his body image. He had his penis amputated following cancer and a new one made using skin from his leg. Reading his account should make anyone who feels a bit down on himself because he hasn't got a six-pack think again. Denis has come back from depression and channelled his anger into art - a much better thing to do with it for some of us than going down the gym, I'd suggest. It's proof indeed that beauty really does come from within the individual (not from within a lad's magazine).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Work kills more people every year than war

We rightly remember those who have given their lives in wars. But every year more people die at work than die in wars. It's less well-known that we remember these deaths on a special day too - those who died simply trying to earn a living. Today - 28 April - is Worker's Memorial Day.

One worker dies every 15 seconds - that's 6,000 a day, 2 million a year. The memorial, which began in Canada in 1989 and is now international, has the slogan: Remember the dead - Fight for the living. This is exactly what the MHF will be doing when it marks Men's Health Week this year under the banner of Men and Work. You can find out more and register your organisation for the week here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Big tobacco adding insult to injury

I can't say I was surprised to hear this morning that the Office of Fair Trading is investigating big tobacco over alleged price-fixing. But it was still a timely reminder to me.

If tobacco companies are found guilty of conspiracy it won't, of course, be the first time. The Michael Mann film The Insider about big tobacco's attempts to silence whistle-blower Dr Jeffrey Wigand famously fictionalises the scene in 1994 when the the so-called seven dwarves - the CEOs of the seven big tobacco companies - all testified before the US House of Representatives that they did not believe nicotine was addictive. Yeah, right. The subsequent release of big tobacco's internal documents suggested otherwise.

As regular readers will know, I've been under attack from pro-smokers citing the apparent lack of research proving passive smoking is dangerous as a reason for lifting the smoking ban. Some of them (with the emphasis on some) have sounded very reasonable. I've invited one of them to state his case on malehealth.

But this investigation reminds me of what we're really talking about: the power of big tobacco. This isn't about whether passive smoking is safe or not. This about selling ciggies. In a confidential 1978 report big-tobacco described passive smoking as 'the most dangerous development to the viability of the tobacco industry that has yet occurred'. How do we know? Because they had to release this document under the agreement they signed in 1998 to compensate US states for smoking related medical costs. Do you really believe anything has changed? I don't.

Clearly, if proven these charges suggest that as well as killing their customers, the tobacco industry are taking the piss while doing it. I don't like to use a cliché but never has the phrase 'adding insult to injury' been more apt.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thanks John

John Prescott is to be congratulated for speaking about his bulimia today in the Sunday Times. Sure it's a plug for the inevitable newspaper serialisation of his memoirs but don't let your cynicism lead you to underestimate the difficulty of speaking out about this. An older man with a young woman's disease.

But the former deputy prime minister is not alone. Thousands of men are experiencing eating disorders And numbers are growing. You can read the stories of several of them on malehealth.

Prescott says he's 'never confessed it before' because 'it’s such a strange thing for someone like me to confess to. People normally associate it with young women - anorexic girls, models trying to keep their weight down, or women in stressful situations, like Princess Diana.'

That bulimia is only about skinny women is a misunderstanding Radio 4's Sue MacGregor clearly shares as she quipped on the radio this morning that Prezza's battle with bulimia was 'clearly one he has lost'. Ha, ha. Well done, Sue. That's going to encourage people to talk, isn't it?

No, eating disorders affect men and women of all shapes and sizes. I think big John deserves praise not mockery. He's done some daft things that we can laugh at but this is not one of them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The smoke - and the plot - thickens

I've just done something I never thought I'd do. I contributed to the website of The Free Society - slogan: big government is watching you. I don't know about that but the Free Society has been watching me. I think a comment on Joe Jackson's Free Society column my be behind the sudden interest in my 2004 article that names the great man that I mentioned on Saturday.

I posted on the site to correct the suggestion that we won't publish comments on that article. We will. As I said I've invited a couple of the emailers to write more. The reason comments don't appear below articles is that we use old web technology. We're looking to improve it but can't afford it. The Free Society have no such problem on their site as they're funded by the tobacco industry. Lucky fellas.

I also said that I just don't think people are interested in passive smoking anymore. Talk to people today about the smoking ban and they will tell you they like it because they no longer cough, no longer have streaming eyes and no longer have to spend the day in stinky clothes with smelly hair as the price for going down the pub. They won’t mention passive smoking. You can read the full post here. Let me - and them - know what you think.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is malehealth going up in a puff of smoke?

Has malehealth finally arrived? In the last 24 hours an article that has not attracted any feedback at all as far as I can remember for at least a year has had three comments posted on it. Two of the them say virtually the same thing.

The article Joe Jackson and the Dodgy Science, which is about four years old, talks about how the difficulty of proving anything beyond reasonable doubt can be used to undermine what our common sense tells us is probably healthy or not healthy. It includes the example, one of several, of passive smoking and it is this that seems to have attracted all the attention. So what's going on? A sudden interest in the issues around smoking following the introduction of the ban in public places? A sudden interest in maleheath? Now that would be nice.

Common sense tells me that this mini flood of feedback cannot be the purely coincidental result of over-enthusiastic Googling by Joe Jackson fans so what is it about? An organised effort to use the internet to put the smoking debate on the agenda again and if so, what are they arguing and who is funding them?

We'll find out. I've invited two of the commentators to write an article for the site. I'll publish at least one of them if I can. Let's see what they come up with.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Would a good young people's website be allowed?

This week, following the Byron report on children in a digital world, we've seen media panics about pro-suicide pages on the internet, about pro-anorexia pages and about sites that appear to promote plastic surgery and diet pills to young girls.

The motivation of the people who run these sites worries me as much as anyone else and I'd rather they weren't there. But instead of foaming at the mouth, perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves why young people are logging on to them. The reason is simple: these sites seem to be saying something that makes sense to them, however warped or distorted they may seem to you.

There are very few 'nice' sites that talk to younger people in ways that make sense in the context of the lives they're living - that's one of the reasons they prefer social networking and self-generated content sites to conventional information/discussion sites. When it comes to young men and their health, which is our concern at the MHF, the picture is particularly grim. There's next nothing that talks to this group about their health in the way that they want.

Apart from our site, there's nothing much for the older male either for that matter but the older surfer is better able to pick and mix and be a little more judicious. One of the reasons that the government funds the MHF is that it knows that we know how to talk to men. The same approach is needed for younger men and boys.

The MHF could do it. (If you don't blow your own trumpet who else will?) But we struggle to get the funding to do the work we already do despite its clear benefits. There are probably other organisations and groups with the expertise who will say exactly the same thing.

Even if the government or an enlightened corporation were to stick their hand in their pocket, would the media tolerate it? In the 90s, the Health Education Authority decided to commission a sexual health guide written to appeal to the 16-25 year old. It was a dose of reality too much for the media and the government - a particulary useless Conservative one, admittedly - disowned it and withdrew it from publication.

Would a website that spoke equally frankly to young people meet the same fate? It would be interesting to see.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why I respect Alastair Campbell

Sorry for the delay in posting. I'd been working on this month's updates to the malehealth site and very interesting they are too.

There's a fascinating piece by Alastair Campbell about his battle with depression - a struggle that continued even once he was inside 10 Downing St working for Tony Blair. It just goes to show that even your dream job might not make you happy. Whatever you think of Campbell, it's to his credit that he's had the balls to go public about his depression. It's to Blair's credit too that he was happy to appoint Campbell despite his history of mental illness. Only when every employer behaves like this can we defeat the stigma against mental health problems.

It's no accident perhaps that the government have just funded a booklet called What's The Story? which encourages journalists to cover mental health issues professionally. It's full of useful advice based on solid stats. For example, fewer than 1% of the 600 murders a year in England and Wales are the result of random attacks on members of the public by people with mental illness. Yet in the media 27% of the coverage of mental health issues - in other words, more than one story in four - is about violence. No wonder people think the risk of being attacked by someone with a mental health problem is far higher than it really is.

There's no substitute for personal experience when it comes to understanding an issue which is why the vogue for politicians who have done nothing in life other than be politicians is so worrying.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Men's health is about women's health too

Interesting research published today suggests that hyperactive girls are less likely to be diagnosed than boys. Later in life, these same women may well find their heart disease is less likely to be picked up than hubby's too. Yes, a lack of gender sensitivity cuts both ways in health and it is gender sensitivity rather than 'men first' that underpins all the MHF's policies and projects.

The trouble is that the subtlety of this message is lost on some our our potential partners. They assume that because we have the word men in our title, to work with us would be sexist and discriminatory against women. Both men and women are suffering from this desperate political correctness from organisations who don't understand the politics.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Health policies that make me mad

I briefly wrote a column in a tabloid called 'You call that research' in which bleeding obvious research of the 'alcohol makes you drunk' or 'childbirth can be painful' type was held up as a waste of time and money. The story today that Abstinence-only 'sex ed' doesn't work should fall into the same category.

In a nutshell, research from the US has shown that only sex education that explains about birth control can reduces teen pregancies and that the 'just say no' approach is not much better than no sex education at all. Pretty obvious right? Not to the US government -it makes hundreds of millions of dollars available to sex education programs every year but only to those that don't mention birth control or condoms, other than to emphasize their failure rates.

No wonder more than half a million US teenagers have unplanned pregnancies every year - one of the worst rates in the world. With government policies as daft as these it's no surprise that 64% of people believe that society is getting angrier. Policies like these make my blood boil. How many times do we have to say it?' Just say no to 'just say no'. Education not intimidation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The government's is the only flexible hours game in town, George

I hesitate to tackle George Monbiot - one of the handful of brand-name journalists who has put a subject on the agenda singlehandedly. If we do save the environment, it will owe a lot to George. However, we may struggle to save our young men if too much notice is paid to his column on GP opening hours. Of course, he can write about what he wants and is rightly looking for new angles but this strays dangerously close to baby with the bath-water territory.

Sure, one of the drivers behind the government's keeness for longer surgery hours is its need to please big business - when was it otherwise? In an ideal world with a properly funded NHS free to all it wouldn't be necessary. But that's not where we are and I don't think health secretary Alan Johnson will be taking us there anytime soon. If we want the sort of flexible opening hours that suit all the population, this is the only game in town. Sometimes, as with the environment, as with health, you need to be a little pragmatic - principles only save lives if they become practice.

George cites the survey that the BMA have also been using to support their campaign against longer hours. A survey that - like some of the anti-global warming stuff that has been cited against George - has some major methodological shortcomings.

George was in trouble recently for suggesting that young people should forego the pleasures of limitless air travel that he took for granted in his youth in order to save the planet. He may well have a point but for God's sake George, if they can't go on a plane, at least let our young men go to the doctors.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Shock, horror: Men make rational decisions

Nobody who saw the cast of children's TV soap Grange Hill warbling 'Just Say No' in the 1980s as part of the anti-drugs campaign of the same name could seriously think such campaigns work. Why would anyone not do something simply because some chump in authority - or worse still, a precocious child actor - told them not to?

Men make rational decisions based on the information they have. They take risks because they think they're worth taking. The best way therefore to encourage men to take healthier decisions is to ensure that they're better informed about their health.

That's the line we've been taking in our research into buying drugs online. Many, many men are already doing this and, our research shows, the potential market is even larger. Telling blokes not to do it has not - and will not - work. On the other hand, once you know what's really going on behind the antiseptic looking websites and mispelt spams for V1agra, frankly only a fool would buy from an online buyer he didn't know. And most men aren't fools.

This philosophy - the more information you have the better your decisions are likely to be - has been vindicated today with research showing that smokers who are told their "lung-age" are twice as likely to quit as those who aren't. OK, the quit figures are still low - 13% compared to 6% - but quitting smoking is tough. Knowing that at the age of 30 you already have the lungs of a 60 year old might be the little bit of information that makes all the difference. Knowing that your online erectile dysfunction drug was made in a cement mixer using blue paint can have a similar effect.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Let's work to make GPs' longer hours useful hours

Well done to GPs for accepting the will of the government and the people and announcing their willingness to implement longer surgery hours.

Former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke has said that the BMA were the toughest trade-union he ever dealth with (and that includes Scargill's miners). Among the many reasons for this are both the strong public support for health professionals and the BMA's disciplined and intelligent organisation. But this episode has been a PR disaster for them.

First, they claimed that people didn't want longer hours and there were media reports of at least one GP practice 'encouraging' patients to sign a petition saying they didn't want greater flexibility. (Words like turkeys, voting and Christmas come to mind.) This attitude aliented organisations who had always worked closely - and very well - with the BMA like the Men's Health Forum.

Now the docs turn round and say the 'majority of GPs were and remain willing to provide extended hours surgeries'. Very confusing - even to me and I've been following this saga. Heaven knows what the average patient makes of it.

Anyway the BMA want to draw a line under this episode and we're happy to do that. So let's propose a toast. Here's to doctors speaking more plainly to their patients in future both in and out of the surgery and to the healthy relationships that this approach attitude will promote.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The healing power of a single sentence

Thanks to the internet there has never been so much media. Now I know that malehealth - independent, non-commercial and striving to be comprehensive - is a unique site with lots of fascinating stuff that blokes want and need to know but I sometimes wonder if the site's message is getting lost in this media morass.

Then every so often along comes a little bit of reader feedback that makes me feel a lot better - better enough to start blogging at 8 in the morning! Ben had visited our page on back pain and left the following message: 'having suffered pack pain for over 20 years, all this advice is top stuff AND IT WORKS! I am pain free now.' Thanks Ben. Glad it worked for you - and I can assure the rest of you that many of the other pages have equally useful advice.

Unfortunately the interface on malehealth is a bit archaic - again budget is the problem - and I have to post all feedback on the site manually. It's a big job and doesn't get done very often but I can assure you that we do read it and it has affected the content of the site fundamentally - this month's article on post-vasectomy pain, for example, arose directly out of readers' feedback. You can read more readers' feedback here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hormones: acceptable in women but not in men?

There are reports today of Australian research showing that depression in some older men is linked to lower levels of the male hormone testosterone. This link is nothing new - we've discussed it before on malehealth in 'Honey, I Shrunk My Hormone Levels' and What's the Score: Testosterone. It's clearly important - although we must not overstate it and start pumping all solvent men full of testoterone as some (private) TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) enthusiasts appear to suggest.

The point that society in general and health policy makers in particular need to understand here is that men are as much subject to the whims of their hormones as women. Once upon a time, women experiencing hormonal changes were branded hysterical and slapped about a bit. Now we know better. We need to take the same attitude to men experiencing similar problems rather than brand them as aggressive, depressive grumpy old men.

Friday, February 29, 2008

We need to educate men in the risks of online buying not bully them

Our online drugs survey suggests that most men would be prepared to buy drugs online in the right circumstances..

Of those surveyed, 38% said they would buy online 'in the right circumstances' and a further 23% said maybe they would. Now, this was a self-selected survey so I wouldn't claim it was highly scientific but at the same time there's no reason to doubt the basic finding. Indeed, one in three of the men in our survey had already bought drugs online.

The most popular online purchase among the 200 men surveyed was drugs to help erections (15% had bought them). The second most popular category was weight-loss drugs with 4%.

Clearly there is a big risk to online buying. But it is also clear - and doctors, drug companies and regulatory authorities need to understand this - that a lot of men are happy with it. Seven out of 10 of men who were buying online said they would recommend what they were buying to a friend. It may be illegal, it may be dangerous but for some men it's better than the alternatives - namely, taking nothing or having to talk to a doctor.

The most popular 'right circumstance' was 'if the doctor (or NICE) was unable or unwilling to prescribe something I felt I needed. Other 'right circumstances' included: recommendation from a reputable site or friend, convenience (to avoid having to go the doctors because they are 'only open in the weekdays') and privacy (to avoid it appearing on my medical records as they are 'now open access to the whole surgery')

Given this willingness to buy online, men need to be informed about how the counterfeit drugs trade really works so they can make their own decisions. This is what we're doing right now on malehealth with features including a tour of an internet drugs factory. Once you know what goes on behind the spam, there's only one decision you can make. But it needs to be a decision based on knowledge. Drug companies and doctors take note: threats about law-breaking or an old-fashioned 'just say no' type approach won't do it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Overprescribed and dangerous - but anti-depressants can help

A review of 47 clinical trails of Prozac and three other anti-depressants has suggested that they are not helping most of the patients for whom they are prescribed. The unpublished trails particularly suggest that the benefits of anti-depressants, in the words of the researchers, fall 'below the accepted criteria for clinical significance’.

Speaking as someone who has taken these drugs, I'm not sure. The real problem is not the drugs but the way they are promoted and prescribed. In the right circumstances anti-depressants can do a job. The trouble is that we're doling them out like sweets - 31 million prescriptions in 2006 alone.

Full story.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stop faffing about on trans fats

It's rare we post two stories on the same subject in the same week but we've done it this week with those nasty little fatty acids - trans-fats.

These fats, which are created by turning liquid vegetable fats into solids for use in spreads and other foods, are known to be harmful to the heart and new research suggests they can double your risk of non-aggressive prostate cancer. At the same time, research from the US shows that manufacturers have responded to compulsory labelling of trans fats on food by cutting them completely - many margarine, butters, cookies, cakes and snack foods are trans-fat free. There's an obvious conclusion from this.

So how do you explain the decision of the Food Standards Agency 'that mandatory restrictions are not necessary' in the UK? They say trans-fat consumption is low here. Maybe - but there's no beneficial level of trans fats so even if our levels are already low reducing them further will only help - and possibly quite a lot. The FSA say the real problem in our diet is saturated fat - animal fat. Well, that's not an open and shut case but even if saturateds are the main problem, not solving one problem because there's another one that's more serious seems daft.

Action is quite possible. Denmark has effectively banned trans fats. The EU considered challenging this on anti-competition grounds but dropped the idea. Perhaps it realised the absurdity: in upholding its free trade principles it would be undermining its own health policy. Anyway, the other Nordic countries are considering following suit. Steen Stender of the Danish Nutrition Council has collected trans-fat data from around the world and the UK levels of which the FSA are so proud are really only good by comparison to the USA. Our consumption levels are no better than most in Europe and worse than many.

Trans fat free solutions already exist. Last year the British Retail Consortium announced its intention to remove industrially added trans-fats from all new stocks of own brand products.

Currently there are EU proposals in the table which could tighten up trans fat labelling but they would still be voluntary. Is that really enough? If the USA can insist on labelling without undermining its economy or enraging its fast food fans, why can't the UK?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Employers not GPs will reduce work-related illness

Health secretary Alan Johnson has said today that he wants to 'explore what else GPs can do to change our sick note culture into a well note culture'. Once again it's the public servant who is held responsible.

The GP's relationship with his patient is nothing to do with the state or the employer. Already GPs are placed in a difficult position with regard to incapacity benefit assessment and the BMA have rightly called for called for this process to be reformed. The hope has long been that the new incapacity benefit system would place less focus on the GP. But this latest idea appears to go in the opposite direction - extending the GP's policing role to pretty much anyone who is ill.

The BMA's Peter Holden rightly points out that 'confirming that a patient is unwell is very different from making a judgement on whether someone is well enough to do their job.' How is the GP supposed to know what equipment they use, how their office is arranged and about the numerous other factors concerning the job?

It is down to the employer to ensure that workers don't get ill by providing decent, civilised working conditions. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is the way to reduce the 30 million working days lost to work-related ill health and the 6 million lost to workplace injury. Smart employers are already doing that. British Gas and Parcelforce have reduced sickness rates by running advice sessions on back pain and mental health problems. Men are already reluctant to see their doctors. Turning GPs into unpaid sick note monitors for every employer in the country will only make them more reluctant.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Memo to editor: write about something interesting

The new annual circulation figures appear to show the men's magazines locked in terminal decline. Loaded is down 29% year on year, FHM down 15%, Maxim down 40%. It's hard to know whether to mourn the passing of an old friend or rejoice in the fact that the sector's relentless dash down-market doesn't appear to have worked. Even the weekly titles which started off down-market are in freefall - Nuts down 8.5% and Zoo down 12.5%.

The reason is that the 'entertainment' to be found in the average lads mag can now be found online - cheaper, easier to access and done better. Publishers have been so wowed by the web that they've tried to imitate it in print and have lost sight of what's unique and great about magazines. No surprise that the only lads mag to buck the trend is Esquire which has gone up 14%. And this is a mag currently without a website. Yes, they're two different media.

But I think there's a lesson in these ABC figures for any publisher with the brains and the balls to act upon it. Both Men's Health and Men's Fitness are also showing circulation figures slightly up year on year. Now neither of these mags exactly has the editorial style of malehealth and we've certainly been critical of most of the lads mags in the past but we do share the basic interest of Men's Health and Men's Fitness in men's well-being. And, lo and behold, it looks like men do too.

So here's a suggestion for the men's magazines: write about what men are interested in and if that includes health - why not? The world's changing, boys.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

GPs are spinning patients' sympathy away

Doctors are being balloted on which of the government's two options for longer opening hours they dislike least. Option A will see GP's practices richer to the tune of about £12,000 in return for an extra three hours a week. Option B will see the government flogging off out of hours provision to the highest bidder.

Let's hope that in their pique, the doctors still make the right decision. Patients want GP's surgeries open at times that make sense and they want it on the NHS.

The doctors' trade union, the BMA, keep telling us that they've made their own proposals to the government for longer hours. I'm sure they have and I'm sure they're very sensible. But I'd be more convinced about their commitment to them if they didn't also keep claiming that people don't want longer hours and quoting a methodologically suspect survey to prove it.

I don't blame the BMA for spinning against the government - unless he's the only politician on the planet who still in 2008 believes that the free market can solve everything then health secretary Alan Johnson is doing a fair bit of spinning himself with his non-optional 'option B' - but it does worry me that the doctors are spinning on the basis of a piece of research that they either haven't read properly or are hoping we haven't read properly. It shows an indifference to methodology and a preparedness to distort findings which I hope doesn't extend to their reading of medical research.

It also shows a lack of respect for the public. Do the doctors really, sincerely, in their heart of hearts, think that their patients don't want surgeries open occasionally in the evening or on Saturday? If they do, then the substantial pay rises that they've rightly enjoyed over the past couple of years - average GP salaries are now £100,000 plus - have left them them totally divorced from reality.