Men’s Life Expectancy Is Declining – Why?

Dr. Aram Neuschatz of Lutheran Hospital in Wheat Ridge, CO
Aram Neuschatz, MD

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We have heard it all before: eat right, exercise, quit smoking, etc. Nag me some more. June is Men’s Health Month, an opportunity to raise awareness and educate on men’s health issues, but why is that significant for you?

The fact is that men’s life expectancy has been declining in comparison to women’s over the last century. Women now live on average five years longer than us! Canadian Men’s Health Foundation reports that, while only 30 percent of men’s overall health is genetically determined, 70 percent is dependent on our lifestyle choices. Our future is largely in our control.

The main culprits to men’s earlier demise are heart disease, cancer and accidental death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are plausible explanations for this disparity. Men still share the burden of greater chronic health diseases, stress as the family provider and less social support, for example. While men remember to take their car in for an oil change every 3,000 miles, they are much less likely to get that annual checkup for their own preventive maintenance. Perhaps surprising is the fact that men experience depression that goes largely under diagnosed. Men are also four times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to the National Institutes of Health. The good news is depression is treatable and suicide is preventable.

Maybe a less surprising fact is that men partake in riskier activities than women. Motor vehicle accidents account for twice as many deaths of men as women and are the number one cause of accidental death in men under the age of 44. Driving above the speed limit, not using a seat belt, and driving while impaired or with someone who is impaired contribute to this.

In general, men are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Although rates of infection are essentially equal for men and women, men have more ICU admissions than women and men account for almost 55 percent of deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. Reasons for this disparity are not entirely clear as yet. This may be due to specific chromosomes, their chronic disease burden, work situation or other causes. Further studies regarding disease severity in different subgroups will likely provide us with answers.

The overall health of ethnic and racial minority men suffers more than white males, too. Latinos and Black men are even less likely to visit the doctor than their White counterparts. An ingrained mistrust of the medical community or lack of health insurance and social determinants of health such as neighborhood, income, etc., are among the factors in a lower life expectancy for Black men, who live six years less than White men, per the CDC.

Just like remembering to put the best gasoline in your car and getting those oil changes will help your car run smoothly for years, taking proper care of yourself will help improve the quality and length of your life. Do it for you and the ones you love and provide for. Gentlemen…start your engines!

Dr. Aram Neuschatz is an internal medicine physician at Lutheran Medical Center.

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