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.