Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who's afraid of Gregor Dallas?

A slightly off topic post today but it's on a topic which as an author of the sort of books that don't sell very well - ie ones about men's health - is close to my heart.

The Society of Authors, the trade union for British authors, is having the first election for its management committee that I can remember in the entire 15 years I've been a member. You'd imagine there'd be quite a state of excitement but today I got my copy of the Society's magazine and there was barely a word about it (nor is there anything on the Society's website). How am I supposed to make up my mind about the candidates?

I can see from the way the ballot paper is laid out that this is an election for four places between four candidates proposed by the board themselves and one other, Gregor Dallas, who was proposed by three other members.

I know Gregor Dallas and have even read one his books. He is an excellent historian, a passionate speaker and a nice man. Perhaps he is a terrible threat to the Management Committee, perhaps his ideas are, but I would like to have been able to make my own mind up.

The Society of Authors is the organisation of George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and hundreds of thousands of others who were not threatened by new or different ideas but embraced them. Shame.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The future of health online

We’ve had a successful Men’s Health Week drawing men’s attentions to the benefits of using reliable internet sites to find health information. But changes in the way the internet works mean this may become harder to do in the future.

‘Liking’ something is fine for the latest gadget, music or amusing video but can you ‘like’ the latest war footage or, more pertinantly to us at the Men’s Health Forum, information about erection problems? In an Observer article on his new book the Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser says that what is good for consumers is not necessarilly good for citizens.

He’s also concerned about personalisation. Internet search engines are no longer neutral. Since the end of 2009 Google has been tailoring your results to what you looked at before without telling you. It’s like buying a newspaper a couple of times and then being force fed the same paper every day. This is a partial world picture at best. Essentially you give up a whole load of personal data to your favourite search engine and they filter out the stuff they don’t think you want to worry your pretty little head about while bombarding you with adverts for the things that they think you might want to buy. A Faustian pact for the internet age. What will its impact be on health online?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

All 'appening for Men's Health Week

It's all coming in thick and fast now ahead of Men's Health Week which kicks off next Monday at White Hart Lane. This year's Week is all about encouraging men to get online and access quality health information. There's a free iPhone app and the Health Clicks mini-manual. All the Men's Health Week latest is on the MHF website and Twitter.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Listen to the docs

Another shocking neglect of blogging duty on my part! Put it down to Men's Health Week and related activities again (actually, there's a book in this year's Men's Health Week). But the call by Britain's doctors for David Cameron to axe Andrew Lansley's proposed health bill has prompted me back to the keyboard. There is currently what the government calls a 'pause' and everyone involved in health including the MHF have been encouraging the public to make it clear what they think of the bill.

As every patient knows, doctor doesn't always know best but you need to listen very carefully to what he or she says. The government should now do so. If you want to have your say, it's not too late - you've got until 31 May.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Random acts of social media kindness

My colleague at the MHF Aine sent me a tweet from someone - a men's health doctor no less - describing this blog as 'great stuff'.

Now I had a great Easter celebrating my dad's birthday but after the machine that is Manchester City effectively ended the champions league hopes of the attractive-looking, occasionally-brilliant, terminally self-destructive jalopy that is Spurs last night I was in severe need of a lift. This retweet was it. It was even enough to make me update the blog after a month's silence forced on me for a variety of reasons including poor health, Men's Health Week preparation, other writing commitments and bone idleness.

Now the cynical among you might well consider that this tweeter's real agenda is to publicise his own work rather than mine. And you might well be right - Dr Will Courteney has a book to promote. But whatever the reason, it still seems like a - cliché alert - win-win situation. He gets publicity. I feel better about malehealth's pathetic web presence and this blog even gets an update. (All it needs now is some readers!)

We know that random acts of kindness make both actor and recipient feel better. Perhaps this is the real health benefit of social media: it makes these random acts so much easier. So go on, retweet something or post a nice comment today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The end of 'I'm on the train!!'

I love my computer but I must admit I'm not a big fan of the mobile phone. I have been heard to argue after a drink or two that they're infantilising devices for social control and I'm not entirely joking. But obviously I have one and my preference for texting rather than calling will be increased by a new review of the mobile phone safety research: Keep phone away from ear to reduce cancer risk.

In 2007 we ran a story on malehealth in which Professor Lawrie Challis, then head of the government's committee on mobile phone safety, suggested that mobile phones and electromagneticism in general could be the cigarettes of the 21st century. Since then smoking has been banned in public places. Is it possible that one day something similar will happen to mobile phones?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The pies have it: salt

Coming from south London, I'm a big fan of pie and mash. In places like Manze's and Goddard's, the pies are as crusty as the bloke behind the counter and the nearest thing to a vegetable is the motes of parsley in the liquor sauce.

I've no idea what's in the pies and I have always thought it best not to ask. Now, thanks to the Consensus on Salt and Health (CASH), we know a little of the answer: there's a lot of salt. Of course, they didn't test traditional pie and mash shops - they stuck to pubs and supermarkets - but I doubt the results would be much different. The bottom line is this: we should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (about a teaspoon) and even the best pie meal in the test contained nearly 4g. Fortunately CASH have provided tables showing the healthiest and unhealthiest options and tips for enjoying pies without piling on the salt. So I won't have to give up the pie and mash just yet.

I don't know, they'll be telling us that eels aren't good for you next.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The curious case of the recidivist stammerer

Although I don't have a stutter, I found myself identifying with a lot of things I learned while writing our new section on Stammering.

David Seidler, the writer of the Oscar-winning film The Kings Speech which deals with King George VI's stammer, says that he took up writing because his own stammer made speaking such a nightmare. I too am writer in part because I hate public speaking. I've sat through innumerable meetings, classes and conferences without uttering a word. Shortly before I went freelance, my voluntary sector employers organised a senior staff 'away-day' at which we were all to make a presentation. I nearly passed out after mine having forgotten to breathe. I realised that any career that involved presentations - Powerpoint was just beginning its ascent - and chairing meetings was not for me.

My interview with Donald, a retired actuary, revealed, as he puts it, what a 'curious' condition stammering is. Donald stammered as a child, spoke fluently at work and then started stammering again when he retired to France. I too speak French very poorly for someone who has spent so much time there and get more tongue-tied the more people there are in the room. Donald says he suddenly becomes fluent if he's interested in the subject and I have noticed how much easier it is to discuss le foot and l'incroyable Garett Bile (French for Gareth Bale) than the latest trial (or not) of Jacques Chirac.

The head of the British Stammering Association Norbert Lieckfeldt told me 'there is no cultural element to stammering, and very little difference between nations, ethnic groups and cultures' but when I see the confidence with which some of today's children express themselves, I wonder. Yes, it may be a pain listening to interminable stories about their over-indulged classmates or ill-informed opinions on your clothes, haircut or gay taste in music but you have to be impressed by their stamina. They do it without hesitation, repetition or deviation and for far more than just a minute. Is stammering a condition that will die out with the stiff upper lip?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does male happiness all come down to the job we do?

Psychiatrists are saying that male depression will get worse during the course of the 21st century.

Currently, women are twice as likely to get diagnosed with depression as men but men's health campaigners have always contended that this not because men are twice as happy as women but because unhappy men are far less likely to go to the doctors for treatment. They're more likely to self-medicate with booze or drugs. The fact that men are three times more likely to take the final step down the path of mental misery and kill themselves is surely evidence enough of male unhappiness. (In 2009 there were 4,304 male suicides - 17.5 per 100,000 of population - and 1,371 female suicides - 5.2 per 100,000).

The American shrinks identify two main causes of this increase in depression - the decline in male jobs and the fact that society encourages men to talk about their feelings more or, as they put it, to 'stop being so tough and stoic'.

Now, the latter may be a reason why men are more likely to be diagnosed with depression since they're more likely to feel able to talk to someone about it but it is surely not a reason for depression in the first place.

This leaves just one cause: the changing job market. Does it all boil down to work? Men are in big trouble if it is. We need to find a different way of living in the 21st century or 50% of the population are going to be very unhappy with, if the experience of the previous 20 centuries is anything to go by, thoroughly unpleasant side-effects for the other 50%.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sick as a parrot

What's the link between football and men's health? Rather more than you might imagine, I think, if a recent unpleasant experience of mine is anything to go by. It's all on malehealth: Cold Turkey at Tottenham

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The problem with breasts

(That's not a headline I ever imagined writing.)

Breast cancer awareness-raising has been brilliant. Every female this side of Venus knows all about it (and most blokes this side of Mars). It is estimated that screening saves about 1,000 lives a year.

High fives all round? Not exactly. A lot of women have become the worried well. Breast cancer remains rare among young women - 4 in every 5 breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over. But you wouldn't know that from the media coverage or to hear some folk talk about the disease. It is one of women's major health fears despite the fact that 96% of them will die of something else - heart disease or another cancer probably. (A 2005 survey in the USA found it was the biggest fear of all: Women's Health Fears Often Don't Line Up With Reality)

Inspired by this, some campaigners have tried to get the prostate to do for men's health what the breast did for women's. Instead of pix of pouting beauties cue images of handsome hunks. This has been pretty successful - look at the excellent Movember. But is there a danger of men's health being seen as all about the bits just as women's health now is? Both are partial and dangerous pictures. Smoking is the biggest killer whether you've nice boobs, a cute prostate, neither or both.

Chris Hiley, a woman who used to work for the Prostate Cancer Charity, understands these issues better than most. In her blog Breasts are a poor vehicle for women’s health: might men’s health now turn to bollocks, too? she puts her finger on the problem.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Would you like to email your doctor?

Personally, I'm not optimistic about the planned NHS reforms. They strike me as ideological rather than about patient care. It's hard to believe the new arrangements will lead to anything other than the further privatisation of much NHS provision either in the short or - in the optimistic scenario - medium term.

But there is possibly one bright note - at least as far as men's health concerned: developing the use of the internet. I'm not talking about gimmicks for mobile phones or little online gadgets to tell you how long you'll live, I'm talking about using the potential of the web to deliver real services: booking appointments, collecting test results, storing records and communications with various health professionals in one place.

Of course security is an issue and the government don't have a great track record here but it must be worth exploring. It seems to me it will make things easier for two categories of patients, particularly: the busy ones who don't consult health professionals often enough and those with long-term and multiple medical issues who otherwise have to consult them too much. What do you think? Tell us in the latest malehealth snap survey.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The real meaning of this study of death

Fascinating stuff on death - always popular with the men's health activist. New research seeking to help answer the question 'why men do die younger than women?' suggests that in the UK about 59% of the gap is down to smoking and 19% to booze. The implication is that men's poorer access to health services - whatever the reason - is not a major factor. This is not so. You can't compare chalk and cheese. Access is not a cause of death in the way that smoking is. Prompt access - seeing your doctor sooner rather than later as women tend to - may mean your smoking-related cancer is cured and you live to die another day from another cause, late access may not.

No, what this research really shows is that the gender death divide is very, very largely about social issues not biological ones. This was a European study and the excess in male deaths varied considerably from 188 per 100,000 of the population a year in Iceland to 942 per 100,000 in Ukraine. Men are biologically much the same in both countries but their behaviour is not. Smoking may be on the decline but I'm sure we men will come up with another way to kill ourselves prematurely - work, for example.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who really benefits from the 'man flu' jibes?

Happy new year everyone. Apologies for the lack of posts but yes, I've had 'flu. Was it 'man flu'? I don't think so and I'm sure my girlfriend who also had it - worse than me - would agree.

However, the suspicion remains that men make a lot of fuss about nothing. Do we? Frankly I couldn't care less. What does worry me is that men already visit the doctors less than women and the fear of looking like whinging malingerers might deter them further. Our snap survey on the latest Boots advert suggests that many of you agree - although perhaps not for the same reasons.

Much excitement in many news outlets including the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail about a survey suggesting South Korean men 'overrate' the symptoms of a cold. Maybe - but the key point may be found in the final buried paragraphs where the researchers suggest Korean men might get more colds than women because they tend to be the main bread winners, and hence 'may experience higher levels of work-related strerrors'.

The Mail then quotes Dr Olivia Carlton, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine who describea the findings were a wake-up call for employers and Dr John Hobson, editor of the scientific journal Occupational Medicine who says men with colds 'may be under work-related stress, which is something that an employer or manager may be able to do something about.'

Indeed, conspiracy theorists might suggest the whole 'man flu' business is an employers' ruse to get us all into the office when the real issue at this time of economic difficulty is stress at work.