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When Men's Health Doesn't Count
When Men's Health Doesn't Count
By Dianna Thompson and Glenn Sacks
Congress is sending a message to American men: men's health doesn't
The disturbing health and mortality disparities between American
whites and blacks are well known, but most people do not realize that
the health and mortality disparities between women and men are just
as great. For example, the gap in life expectancy between whites and
blacks is six years, while the gender gap is 5.7 years. Adjusted for
age, men are 1.6 times as likely as women to die from one of the top
10 causes of death, and blacks are 1.5 times as likely to die from
them as whites.
Despite this, it is women's health, not men's, which continues to
receive government attention and funding. For example, the National
Institutes of Health--the federal focal point for medical research in
the U.S.--spends nearly four times as much on female-specific health
research as on male-specific research. And though the average man is
as likely to die from prostate cancer as the average woman is from
breast cancer, the Department of Health and Human Services' National
Cancer Institute spends three and a half times as much money on
breast cancer research as on prostate cancer research.
In fact, prostate cancer makes up 37% of all cancer cases but
receives only 5% of federal research funding. In addition, the breast
cancer postage stamp has raised over $25 million for breast cancer
research since it began in 1998, while a 1999 bill proposing a
similar stamp for prostate cancer research was unsuccessful.
When Congress formed the Office on Women's Health in 1991, its goal
was to improve women's health by directing and coordinating women's
health research, health care services, and health education. Since
then men's health advocates have been trying to create an Office of
Men's Health, with the goal of duplicating the OWH's success. Yet
while a new bill which will help to make the OWH's funding permanent
was just passed by the House, the Men's Health Act of 2001 (H.R. 632)
remains trapped in the House Energy and Commerce Committee's
subcommittee on health. If not rescued soon, the bill will die when
the 107th Congress adjourns this fall.
According to Tracie Snitker, director of public affairs for the Men's
Health Network, "the number and quality of federally funded women's
health education projects is outstanding. But while outreach programs
teach women about breast cancer and cervical cancer, there are few if
any programs which educate men about their own gender-specific health
"We want to do for men what the OWH has done for women," she
adds. "Men need education about the cancers which disproportionately
affect them, such as prostate cancer, skin cancer and colorectal
cancer. Young men need education on testicular cancer. Most
importantly, we need to teach men to seek preventative health care."
Part of the reason an Office of Men's Health has been so long in
coming is the common but nonetheless false perception that the
government and the scientific community have paid more attention to
men's health than to women's. In 1990 Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
made national headlines by citing the fact that women-specific health
research comprised only 14% of the budget of the National Institute
of Health (NIH). She called it "blatant discrimination" and led the
successful campaign for the creation of the OWH. What Mikulski and
many in the media who publicized Mikulski's claims did not understand
was that only 6.5% of the NIH's budget went to male-specific research-
-the vast majority of the NIH's research was gender neutral.
Today the disparity in favor of women in NIH research has grown, as
has the gender disparity in enrollments in non-gender-specific
studies. According to the Government Accounting Office, one of the
few areas where men comprise the majority of research subjects is in
initial trials of experimental drugs. These are the trials undertaken
to ensure that the drugs are not lethal or seriously harmful.
First, drugs are usually tested on rats and monkeys. If there are no
adverse effects, they are then tested on people--usually men. If the
men also show no adverse effects, the drugs advance to larger trials,
where women comprise the majority.
Considering Congress' repeated refusal to act to help men's health,
one can't help but wonder--is men's health as important as women's,
or is it merely more important than monkeys'?
This column first appeared in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (10/9/02).
Dianna Thompson is a founder and executive director of the American
Coalition for Fathers and Children (www.acfc.org). She can be
contacted by e-mail at DThompson2232@aol.com. Glenn Sacks writes
about gender issues from the male perspective. He can be reached at
My latest column, "When Men's Health Doesn't Count" just ran in the
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (10/9/02). To comment on the article, write
the Virginian-Pilot at email@example.com. The piece was co-
written by Dianna Thompson, executive director of the American
Coalition for Fathers and Children (www.acfc.org).
The Men's Health Act needs popular support. To write a letter to
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JUNE is Domestic Violence Against Men Awareness Month