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It's a Guy Thing

Washington Post; Tuesday, February 27, 2001; Page HE06

More than 50 members of Congress have co-sponsored a bill creating a federal office of men's health. Lives would be saved, the bill says, if men, their families and health care providers were better educated about detecting male health problems early.

A "silent health crisis" is plaguing men, according to the bill, introduced by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Life expectancy at birth is six years less for males than for females, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Each of the top 10 causes of death in the United States kills men at a higher rate. Death rates from heart disease and cancer, the nation's two main killers, are 1.8 and 1.4 times higher in men.

Many problems disproportionately affecting men arise from men's cluelessness and unwillingness to seek help, health advocates say.

A lot of men can't even pronounce "prostate cancer," the most-diagnosed cancer in men, says Jean Bonhomme, an Atlanta physician and adviser to the Men's Health Network . . . "Think about how many people say, 'prostrate' cancer," Bonhomme says. "A symptom of this lack of knowledge is that many men die from completely preventable and treatable causes."

In addition, Bonhomme says, too many men see going to a doctor as a sign of weakness. "The health care system needs to shift its image," he says, so that men see it "as an ally of manhood, helping them to maintain or regain their strength, their vigor, their ability to function."

Men's health advocates say they would like to see the same kind of health office women have already had for a decade. The federal Office on Women's Health, established in 1991 under the Secretary of Health and Human Services, spent most of its $15.5 million budget last year on public health education efforts, according to Wanda Jones, the deputy assistant secretary for women's health who heads the office. Some women's health advocates, including Jones, support a similar office for men. Such an office, she says, would "help men overcome a socialized resistance to outreach and education. "Others like Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) say there's no need for a men's office because federal health research and policy already focus disproportionately on men.

Cunningham's bill, co-sponsored by 27 Democrats and 25 Republicans, awaits action in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over public health issues. Supporters expect the legislation to be introduced in the Senate in early March. Cunningham and more than 40 other representatives have also asked President Bush to include funding for the men's health office in Bush's upcoming budget request to Congress.

-- Marc Borbely 

2001 The Washington Post Company 

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