There was some great news for Aussie blokes this week, meat pies could be good for men's health.
The food writer Callan Boys once said: “there are more pie varieties in our wide, brown-minced land than you can shake a sauce bottle at” and now the iconic pie has inspired a new men’s health program called the Men’s Pie Club.
The program is funded by Movember (founded in Australia in 2003) as part of its Social Innovators Challenge (SIC) and aims to tackle social isolation in men.
The bad news, for Aussie blokes, is that the Men’s Pie Club is launching in England!
Why Is Social Isolation A Men’s Health Issue
There is growing recognition that “social connection” is public health issue. We name it as one of the key social factors that shape men's health in our Framework For A Healthier Future (A Conceptual Framework For Taking Action To Improve Men And Boys' Health).
Having greater social connection has been associated with a 50% reduced risk in early death. At the same time, lack of social connection (through social isolation, loneliness and living alone) have been shown to have a great impact on our health than obesity.
While lack of social connection can be bad for everyone’s health, there are gender differences that everyone interested in men’s health should be aware of.
Roger Patulny at the University of Wollongong, who has conducted studies on gender differences in social inclusion and social connection, says that Australian men endure serious loneliness for longer periods than women and are less able to deal with loneliness. High risk groups include older men and separated men.
A 2014 report on Australian men’s social connectedness found that 25 per cent of 30 to 65-year-old men had no-one outside their immediate family they felt they could rely on. The same research found that nearly two in five men were not satisfied with the quality of their relationships.
A great example of a program that helps to tackle lack of social connection in men is the Men’s Sheds movement, which started in Australia and is particularly popular with older men.
What’s All This Got To Do With Pies?
But back to the pies. As part of its Social Innovators Challenge, The Movember Foundation has invested $5.6 million in projects across Australia, Canada and the UK that aim to strengthen social connections for men.
The aim is to create “innovative, outside-the-box ideas for game-changing products or services which could increase the quantity and quality of men’s relationships” and improve mental wellbeing in the process.
The team behind the project say that the Men’s Pie Club is built around men's love of pies - creating them, cooking them, eating them, sharing them and selling them. But most of all it's about bringing men together, improving social connectedness, improving nutrition and improving physical and mental health.
Colin Mallen, Project Co-ordinator from Food Nation says:
"A pie club may seem odd given the bad press they receive for being unhealthy, but at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a hearty and comforting pie? The Men’s Pie Club will be a place of leisure where males can come together to informally learn about food, share skills and knowledge, achieve and socially interact".
A Final Word On Social Connection
There is mounting evidence that promoting social connection is a form of health prevention, yet it gets less attention from the health sector than other leading health determinants that receive significant public health resources.
The new national Men's Health Strategy has identified socially isolated men as a priority population, though it's not clear what the criteria is to be classified as socially isolated or how this group of men will be targeted.
Furthermore, the focus of the Strategy appears to be on targeting men as individual health consumers and improving their access to health services and programs rather than addressing some of the underlying causes of poor health like lack of social connection.
So, for the sake of men's health, maybe Australia needs projects like Men's Pie Clubs too!
- Men's Pie Club (UK Blog)
- Advancing Social Connection As A Public Health Priority (PDF: American Psychologist Journal)
- Framework For A Healthier Future (AMHF)
- Men's Social Connectedness Report (PDF: Beyond Blue)
- Friends Can Keep Men Healthy Says Professor (AMHF)
- Men Without Mates Face Mental and Physical Health Risks (ABC Article)