African American Men live 6.5 years shorter lives than the average male,
And 7.7 years shorter lives than African American Women.
Men live sicker and die younger than women, leaving wives, daughters, sons, and sisters behind. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that more than half the elderly women living in poverty were not in poverty before their husbands died.
There are several Offices of Women’s Health in the federal government, but there isn’t a corresponding Office of Men’s Health. Why not?
There are five Offices on Women’s Health at the federal level: at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). The combined annual budgets of these Offices is in the tens of millions of dollars. In addition, the Office of Research for Women’s Health within the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—one of several research agencies focusing exclusively on women’s health—has a large annual budget.
Unfortunately, there are still exactly zero Offices of Men’s Health anywhere in the federal government, zero offices researching men’s health, and a corresponding combined budget of exactly zero dollars. (In 2010, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act authorized the creation of an Office of Indian Men’s Health, but more than a decade later, that Office is still unstaffed and unfunded.)
Why not?—The answer to that is a bit more complicated and more tragic. In just the past few years, we’ve seen the gap between men’s and women’s life expectancy increase (it’s now more than five and a half years shorter than women’s), and a disproportionate number of men dying from COVID and “diseases of despair”—men make up more than two thirds of opiate overdose deaths and three quarters of suicides, according to the CDC. Men die at younger ages and higher rates than women of nine of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. Most of those premature deaths are preventable.
“It is important that we have a level of coordinated effort and synergy for men’s health initiatives throughout the country.” Said Darrell Sabbs, Community and Public Relations Representative for Phoebe Putney Health Systems. “Establishing an Office of Men’s Health would supply that central stream of advocacy and resources.”
A federally funded and staffed Office of Men’s Health could save lives, providing community-based programs the expertise they need to reach men and boys, including Black men and boys, with life-saving messages, advice, and resources. Just look at how successful the Offices of Women’s Health have been at increasing awareness of women’s health issues and at encouraging women to get regular health screenings and physical exams (men are half as likely as women to see a health provider for preventive care).
“Men tend to neglect their health, and it puts a burden on their families and society as a whole.” Said Tom Rogers, M.D. “Men are much more unhealthy than women overall because they are reluctant to visit the doctor for screenings, and are less educated about their health.”
The Office of Women’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that it and the other Offices have, among other achievements, increased breast cancer screenings and reduced breast cancer deaths, decreased smoking rates for women, decreased teen pregnancy rates, and increased women’s lifespan. An Office of Men’s Health could produce the same type of benefits for men.
“[An Office of Men’s Health] would be in a position to advance and promote the development of health professionals and provide avenues to develop innovative programs specific to improving men’s health outcomes.” Said Darryl Davidson, Director of the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, City of Milwaukee, “The Office increases the likelihood of developing opportunities to learn about and respond to priority issues.”
A federally funded and staffed Office of Men’s Health could also save money. In a peer-reviewed article published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, Armin Brott and his colleagues found that the failure to address men’s health in a comprehensive manner costs the government, private employers, and the healthcare system more than $450 billion each year.
What would an Office of Men’s Health do? A lot. To start with, it would create and disseminate—to state and local health agencies, private employers, and religious and community organizations—awareness and educational materials and programs designed to engage boys and men in the healthcare system and empowering them to be more active participants in their own care. Non-government entities such as Men’s Health Network and Healthy Men, Inc. are trying to fill this role, but they lack the fiscal resources.The Office of Men’s Health would also coordinate the male-focused and father-focused public health efforts within state health agencies (as the Offices of Women’s Health currently do for women).
What can you do to help? Contact your Representatives and Senators and encourage them to co-sponsor or at least support legislation to create, staff, and fund an Office of Men’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services. The results could be dramatic, both in terms of lives lengthened, improved, and saved, as well as money saved and reduced health care costs for all Americans. Healthier men and boys lead to healthier families and a healthier society.
Don’t know who your members of Congress are? You can find them at congress.gov/members or call the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and they will connect you with your Representative and Senators.