Better health for men? Have your say on the Government's preventive health strategy

The Australian Government is seeking feedback on its plans for a new 10-year preventive health strategy.

The strategy aims to create a fundamental shift from a health system that focuses primarily on treating illness and disease to a more balanced system, placing a focus on prevention.

As the peak body for the men’s health sector, the Australia Men’s Health Forum is consulting with members and supporters to find out what action you think Government should take to prevent poor health in men and boys.

You can help shape our advice to Government by completing a short AMHF online survey - Preventing Poor Health in Men. 

Why is preventive health important to men and boys?

Every day, nearly 50 men a day under the age of 75 die in ways that could have been avoided through better preventive health. Men account for 2 in 3 potentially preventable deaths in Australia, making them a priority population for preventive health. (Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Deaths in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 229. Canberra: AIHW.)

However, the draft strategy has not identified men as a priority group which is why we need your input to help us persuade Government to place more focus on men’s health.

The Government has identified six areas it plans to focus on in the early years of its new strategy and each of these has a clear gender dimension. The six focus areas are:

1. Reducing Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is linked with 400 deaths a week, with men accounting for 3 in 5 of the lives lost. In 2015, 20,933 deaths were attributable to tobacco use (12,162 male deaths and 8,771 female deaths).

The rate of death, disease and poor health due to tobacco use – measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – is 50% higher in men than women (20.1 per 1,000 people in males and 13.1 per 1,000 in females).

Socioeconomic status plays a major in role in influencing men’s risk of tobacco-related poor health. The 20% of men in the lowest socioeconomic group have rates of death, disease and poor health due to tobacco that are:

  • 60% higher than women from the same socioeconomic background
  • 2.9 times higher than men in the highest socioeconomic group
  • 3.7 times higher than women in the highest socioeconomic group

Men with a mental health condition are:

  • nearly 30% more likely to smoke that women with a mental health condition
  • twice more likely to smoke than men without a mental health condition
  • nearly three times more likely to smoke than women without a mental health condition.

Rates of death, disease and poor health due to tobacco also vary according to where people live, being more than 75% higher in men living in remote and very remote locations, when compared with men in major cities.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Burden of tobacco use in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015. Australian Burden of Disease series no. 21. Cat. no. BOD 20. Canberra: AIHW.

2. Improving consumption of a healthy diet

Poor nutrition is linked to 30 male deaths a day. In 2015, 19,876 deaths were attributable to poor nutrition (10,833 male deaths and 9,044 female deaths).

The rate of death, disease and poor health associated with dietary risks – measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – is twice as high in men than women (18 per 1,000 people in males and 8.5 per 1,000 in females).

The dietary risks that have the biggest impact on men’s health in terms of the rate of death, disease and poor health they are associated with are:

  • diet low in whole grains & high fibre cereals (2.1x higher in men)
  • diet low in fruit (1.9 x higher in men)
  • diet low in nuts & seeds (2.3 x higher in men)
  • diet high in processed meat (2.1 x higher in men)
  • diet high in sodium (2.2 x higher in men)
  • diet low in vegetables (2.5 x higher in men).

Source: AIHW Analysis of Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 Database

3. Increasing physical activity

 On average, men are more physically active than women, though the rate at which men experience death, disease and poor health linked to being physically inactive, is 25% higher than in women.

Men are twice as likely as women to achieve high levels of activity that protect them from the risk of developing diseases associated with physical inactivity. However, 85% of men and 93% of women do not achieve high levels of physical activity.

There are four categories of physical activity levels:

  • High (14.7% of men, 7.3% of women)
  • Moderate (10.0% of men, 7.2% of women)
  • Low (45.8% of men, 52.1% of women)
  • Sedentary (29.5% of men, 33.3% of women)

The rate of death, disease and poor health associated with physical inactivity – measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – is higher in men than women (4.9 per 1,000 people in males and 3.9 per 1,000 in females).

In particular, physical inactivity is linked to twice as much coronary heart disease in men than women (26,415 DALYs in males and 12,848 DALYs in females).

Socioeconomic status plays a role in influencing our risk of poor health linked to being physically inactive. The 20% of men in the lowest socioeconomic group have rates of death, disease and poor health due to physical activity that are:

  • 24% higher than women from the same socioeconomic background
  • 88% higher than men in the highest socioeconomic group
  • 93% higher than women in the highest socioeconomic group

Research shows that an extra 30 minutes of daily exercise (5 days per week) has substantial health benefits for men.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. Impact of physical inactivity as a risk factor for chronic conditions: Australian Burden of Disease Study. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 15 Cat. no. BOD 16. Canberra: AIHW.

4. Increasing cancer screening

Cancer kills more than 500 men a week, with men being 50% more likely to die by cancer than women. We spend less money preventing cancer in men, with 90% of national cancer screening focusing on women.

In 2018, cancer killed 45,579 people (26,263 male deaths and 20,316 female deaths), with the death rate for cancer being 51% higher in men (188.7 per 100,000 in males and 124.6 per 100,000 in females.

The Government’s preventive health strategy focuses on one action to tackle cancer – to increase participation in current cancer screening programs.

At present, nine out of 10 invitations to take part in national cancer screening programs are sent to women.

These include breast cancer screening (3.3 million women), bowel cancer screening (1.6 million women) and cervical cancer screening (6.9 million women). In comparison, the only national screening program to target men is bowel cancer screening (1.6 million men).

By only focusing on screening, the Government’s preventive health strategy fails to identify opportunities to prevent cancer in men.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Australia’s health 2018. Australia’s health series no. 16. AUS 221. Canberra: AIHW.

5. Improving immunisation coverage

Men and boys are less likely to be immunised against some specific health issues than women. This includes HPV (human papillomavirus) and influenza. Men are also more likely to die from COVID-19, a virus that is likely to be targeted by a vaccination program in future.

In 2017, the rate of 3-dose vaccination coverage against HPV (human papillomavirus) at the age of 15 was higher in females (80.2%) than males (75.9%).

Previous research also found that more females (76.5%) than males (72.2%) were vaccinated against influenza.

With the possible introduction of a COVID-19 vaccination in future – and international research suggesting that men are more vulnerable to COVID-19 -  it is important that Government’s immunisation programs take into account how effective they are at reaching men and boys.

Sources:

  1. National HPV Vaccination Program Register (HPV Register) as at 4 July 2018.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. 2009 Adult Vaccination Survey: summary results. Cat. no. PHE 135. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. Bhopal, S. S., & Bhopal, R. (2020). Sex differential in COVID-19 mortality varies markedly by age. The Lancet, 396(10250), 532-533. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(20)31748-7

6. Reducing alcohol and other drug-related harm

More than 80 male deaths a week are attributable to alcohol and illicit drug use and men experience around three quarters of the burden of disease linked to alcohol and drugs.

In 2011, there were 6,660 alcohol and drug deaths (4,244 males and 2,417 females).

The amount of death, disease and poor health associated with alcohol and illicit drugs – measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – is nearly three times as high in men than women (220,061 DALYs in males and 80,108 DALYs in females).

Socioeconomic status plays a significant role in influencing our risk of poor health linked to alcohol. The 20% of men in the lowest socioeconomic group have rates of death, disease and poor health due to alcohol use that are:

  • 2.5x higher than women from the same socioeconomic background
  • 2x higher than men in the highest socioeconomic group
  • 4x higher than women in the highest socioeconomic group

Men living in very remote communities also have rates of death, disease and poor health due to alcohol use that are 2.4x higher than men in major cities and 5x higher than women in major cities.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Impact of alcohol and illicit drug use on the burden of disease and injury in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 17. Cat. no. BOD 19. Canberra: AIHW.

Take AMHFs short survey Preventing Poor Health in Men and help shape our advice to Government for a National Preventative Health Strategy.

DOWNLOAD THE CONSULTATION PAPER: DEVELOPMENT OF THE NATIONAL PREVENTIVE HEALTH STRATEGY

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.