The vast majority of millennials — men in particular — consider themselves to be in good or excellent health. However, a report from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association paints a different picture External Site. The generation of Americans born between 1981 and 1996 are plagued by a number of serious health conditions, and their health status starts to seriously decline after age 27.
Though the BCBS Health of Millennials report shows that millennial women are 20 percent less healthy than millennial men in some areas, more research reveals that younger men are now more prone to chronic health issues and challenges — especially as they age. Even though awareness around men’s health is celebrated with Men’s Health Month each June External Site, it’s time to start taking greater preventive measures when it comes to men’s health year-round.
Here are 5 things you need to know about men’s health right now:
Men avoid going to the doctor
If you feel sick, you go to the doctor — right? For many men, not necessarily. The American Academy of Family Physicians reports more than 50 percent of men hadn’t seen their primary care doctor in the last year — and nearly one-third of men report not having one at all.
Around 20 percent of men admit to avoiding the doctor External Site because they’re afraid of bad health news, but other excuses include that they don’t have time for appointments, can’t afford regular checkups, or assume they don’t need to go because they feel healthy. And, if they do go to the doctor, nearly one-third tend to wait as long as possible — even if they’re in pain.
However, this behavior has consequences. Skipping tests and treatments, brushing off or minimizing symptoms, and ignoring medical advice can lead to a long road of serious health issues.
Society may be part of the problem
According to James Mahalik, a professor at Boston College Opens PDF, society may play a role in why men take their health less seriously. Mahalik’s research shows many men have been raised to believe they need to be tough and manly. They then think that if they're in pain or sick, they should "tough it out" or manage it on their own.
He also recognizes that men tend to engage in risky behaviors that threaten their health — like playing contact sports or not wearing a seatbelt — just because they see other men doing the same. Finally, he writes Opens PDF, men who avoid the doctor may simply be doing so because they don’t see it as acceptable to leave in the middle of the workday for an appointment.
Mental health is stigmatized
Though millennials are one of the most vocal generations when it comes to mental health concerns and treatment, men tend to struggle External Site with what remains of the stigma around mental health more so than women. Even though men are far less likely to talk about their emotions because they don’t want to feel vulnerable, that doesn’t make mental health issues for them go away — at least six million men in the U.S. External Site suffer from depression annually.
Because signs and symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions in men are different than they are in women, they’re often harder to recognize. And, just like men tend to avoid the doctor for their physical health, they’re less likely than women to understand the need for and look for formal mental health support.
Men are more vulnerable to chronic illness
Thanks to a mix of factors related to men’s biology and behavior, they experience more chronic illness than women and start to experience chronic illness at a younger age. An article from Harvard Health Publishing External Site notes that, compared to women, men are:
- Four times more likely to get gout External Site
- Twice as likely to suffer from emphysema External Site
- Three times more likely to develop kidney stones or bladder cancer
- Five times more likely to have aortic aneurysms
- Ten times more likely to get inguinal hernias External Site
- Three times more likely to become alcoholics
And, because they aren’t getting regular checkups — which could help prevent or treat silent conditions like cancer or heart disease before they cause too much damage — men live five fewer years than women on average.
Lifestyle choices play a role
Remember when we said that most millennials think they’re in good or excellent health? It turns out there’s a significant gender gap External Site in health-related lifestyle choices, too. According to WebMD® External Site, men have less variety in their diet than women and are more likely to eat fatty meats, processed carbohydrates, and foods that are high in fat, sodium, and calories. Their portions tend to be oversized and they don’t always try to choose nutritious foods.
According to data from the National Institutes of Health External Site, more than 60 percent of American men are overweight or obese. Because they carry weight differently than women (in their waist rather than in their lower body), this increases their risk of heart attack or stroke.
Men are also almost two times more likely External Site to binge drink than women — on average having eight beverages in one sitting five times a month. This increases instances of risky behavior, as well as the likelihood of developing cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention External Site.
How to keep yourself or the men in your life healthy
The outlook on men’s health may not seem so great, but there are things you can do to help turn it around:
- Stay on top of regular checkups. Even men who look physically healthy and fit could have silently developing conditions like prostate cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. The best way to detect silent diseases like these early is by getting regular checkups. Schedule yours when the rest of the family is getting their back-to-school physicals to make it easy and convenient. You could also find a health care provider who has weekend or evening availability or is in a convenient location. And remember that there’s more to regular checkups than just getting your weight and blood pressure taken — check out the list of recommended screenings by age External Site.
- Keep an eye on your numbers. The information you do get from regular checkups can be helpful if you look at trends over time. For example, if your blood pressure is high at one appointment but not consistently high over several years, it’s likely not something to worry about. However, if you see consistently high blood pressure over several appointments, it’s time to talk to your health care provider.
- Know the warning signs. It’s helpful to be aware of the signs and symptoms of common health problems — like chest pain and difficulty breathing for heart problems — so you or someone you love can take quick action if you need it.
- Don’t forget about self-checks. Just because you only need to see your provider once a year doesn’t mean you’re off the hook in between visits. Self-exams are one of the best ways to uncover early warning signs of potential issues from heart disease and diabetes to several cancers. Try incorporating some or all of these eight self-exams External Site that you or your partner can do to help you stay in peak health.
- Practice sun safety. According to SkinCancer.org External Site, up to half of Americans who live to age 65 will have at least one skin cancer — and light-skinned men are especially at risk. You can reduce this risk by avoiding the sun during its strongest hours (from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every few hours if you’ll be outdoors for long periods and protecting your eyes and head with a hat and UV-rated sunglasses.
Get the most from your health benefits
Your health insurance benefits can help support you when it comes to sticking to healthy habits or turning your health around. All you have to do is log in or register for myWellmark® Opens New Window. Once you’re in, you’ll have access to helpful tools and information that help you use your benefits — like an online coverage summary, a digital ID card if you’ve lost your physical one, full claims information, a cost estimator for appointments and procedures, and much more.
Plus, with your Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance plan, most preventive services are covered and may be covered at no cost at all to you. Just be sure to see an in-network provider and check your benefits before receiving services.
To see a list of preventive services your plan covers at no cost to you, register or log in Opens New Window to myWellmark.