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Why sports fan health checks are working for men

Thousands of Australian men have taken part in on-the-spot health tests at major sports events since December 2023.

The trend was started by the Shane Warne Legacy Heart Test campaign, which reached more than 7,000 fans at the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. This was followed by 8,000 fans being tested for heart disease and diabetes at the AFL Gather Round in Adelaide in April. Most recently, thousands of rugby fans were offered free health check-ups during the Magic Round in Brisbane in May.

As over 75% of fans getting tested are men, what can this initiative teach us about ways to engage men in healthcare?

The myth that men don’t get checked

Public conversations about men’s health often focus on negative stereotypes of men as reluctant users of health programs.

In practice, the system offers men fewer chances to engage in health checks than women. Yet, when we give men opportunities to get checked, they often respond equally to women.

For example:

  • Men account for half (48%) of all Medicare-funded Heart Health Checks;
  • Nearly half (48%) of the 500,000 people who took part in Australia’s Biggest Blood Pressure Check were men;
  • Nearly half (45%) of participants in Bowel Cancer Screening are men;
  • In the UK, 75% of men aged 65 take up the offer of NHS screening for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (higher than participation rates for breast cancer).

Men take action when we reach out

Men’s health advocates have long known that “meeting men where they are” and offering health programs in community settings is an effective way of engaging men in health checks.

For example, the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program in the US has over 30,000 African American men with diabetes and high blood pressure. Closer to home, MHERV (Men’s Health Education Rural Van) has delivered health checks to more than 12,000 men in rural NSW since 2017.

According to AMHF’s guidelines on male-friendly services, “meeting men where they are” is a common characteristic of health programs that are successful at reaching men. The Making Services Work for Men guide includes this advice to health providers: “If you want more men to go to your service, go to places where more men are, such as workplaces and sports clubs”.

The Test Scores

The recent sports-based health checks have been delivered in partnership with SiSU Health, who put together a detailed analysis of the results from the Boxing Day Test campaign: 

  • 23 SiSU Health stations were installed in and around the MCG
  • 7,601 people had tests (5.1% of all attendances) over 4 days
  • 77% of people tested were male
  • 1 in 2 men (52.8%) had not had their Blood Pressure tested in the past 12 months
  • 1 in 3 men had high AUSDRISK (high risk of diabetes)
  • 1 in 4 men (27.4%) had high Blood Pressure
  • 1 in 8 men (13.3%) had uncontrolled Blood Pressure (i.e. not on medication)

Gaps in the field

Since 2019, free Heart Health Checks have been available on Medicare for adults aged 45 and above. Around half of people tested are men. As men account for 4 in 5 heart deaths under the age of 65, we would hope to see a higher proportion of men, particularly men under 65, getting tested. Sports-based health checks are one way to close this gap.

While men of all ages (16+) took part in the tests, the majority of participants were in the 35-64 age range as follows:

  • 45-54 (23.9%)
  • 55-64 (18.9%)
  • 35-44 (17.0%)
  • 25-34 (15.3%)
  • 65+ (12.5%)
  • 16-24 (12.4%)

One poor performance

We know people from the poorest backgrounds have the worst health outcomes. For example, the poorest 20% of Australian men have heart attacks at:

  • Twice the rate of women from the same background
  • Three times the rate of the richest 20% of men
  • Nearly four times the rate of the richest 20% of women

People’s socioeconomic status (SES) is often overlooked despite being one of the most significant determinants of our health outcomes. The Shane Warne Legacy Heart Health Test campaign deserves great credit for collecting SES data.

This revealed an important gap, with only 6.5% of participants coming from the poorest 20% of society and the poorest 60% in general being under-represented.

Most significantly, people from the richest 20% of society were seven times more likely to take part in a health check than the poorest 20%.

This pattern probably reflects the socioeconomic make-up of the crowd. It’s not clear whether this is a characteristic unique to test cricket fans or whether participation was spread more evenly across socioeconomic groups at AFL and NRL games.


READ: Shane Warne's Legacy empowers men to get heart checks


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