By Tania Marín Macías – men’s health
In Latin America, men’s health care represents multiple challenges. Unhealthy lifestyles (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyles), rigid gender stereotypes, lack of information about men’s health from both users and health services, cultural and economic barriers that translate into low use of preventive and curative health services, a shortage of programs with a gender focus, and the growing prevalence of chronic diseases are some of the problems that health systems must face in order to meet men’s health needs.
Risk Factors and Behaviors in Men – men’s health
Men often incorporate risky behaviors into their lifestyles, which have consequences for their health and even increase the risk of mortality. The gender norms and stereotypes on which the notion of masculinity is based (e.g. strength, independence, self-sufficiency, power, virility, among others), not only influence the epidemiological profile of men, but also have repercussions at the social level.
It is estimated that in Latin America and the Caribbean, there are 32.1 million men who smoke and 15.7 million women who smoke. Tobacco use is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in Latin America, with higher mortality for men than for women.
In our region, men have weekly episodes of excessive alcohol consumption at a ratio of 4 to 1 compared to women. As a result, mortality and disability rates associated with alcohol consumption are higher in men, mainly between the ages of 15 and 49. At the social level, this problem directly affects the economically active population, creates conditions of dependence in young adults and increases the demand for health care. It is worth noting that these deaths and injuries are 100% preventable, avoiding harmful alcohol consumption. Similarly, according to a report by the Pan American Health Organization, alcohol consumption by men increases the possibility of their using violence against women.
Violence – men’s health
In Latin America there is a serious problem of violence against women, mainly by their partners. According to the evidence collected by ONUMUJERES, existing gender attitudes in the region tend to “justify” socially the use of physical and sexual violence against women by men, in addition to the fact that there are rigid models that legitimize the use of partner violence as a way of “disciplining” women. Therefore, it is essential to involve men in policies and programmes for the prevention of gender-based violence. However, men are also victims of interpersonal violence. In a study conducted by the IDB, young men were found to be the main victims of homicides in several Latin American countries (48% were between 15 and 29 years old), and in six of the 17 countries in the study, more than 90% of the homicide victims were men.
Men make less use of prevention and mental health services.
In Brazil, it has been found that men make less use of health services, mainly for preventive services or at the first level of care; the association between the notion of masculinity and the act of seeking health care has also been explored. Brazil has a National Policy on Men’s Health, which recognizes that men are less likely to take care of themselves and to seek medical care in more advanced stages of illness, which implies, on the one hand, negative consequences for their health status and, on the other, an increase in health costs, because their conditions require more technology and specialized personnel for treatment.
Men must also be included in the sexual and reproductive health agenda.
There is a growing notion that men should be part of the target population within sexual and reproductive health programs and strategies to increase their effectiveness, given that currently, the global health agenda focuses primarily on women’s reproductive phase. A recent study by UNFPA reveals how gender norms put pressure on adolescents, promoting the adoption of unhealthy versions of masculinity. This study found that in many countries, the majority of adolescent men aged 15-19 had engaged in risky sexual behavior in the past year.
In addition, gaps have been identified in both knowledge and policy and strategy for some vulnerable and specific communities such as men who have sex with men, or transgender people.
Given this scenario, addressing the health problems that most affect men, understanding the role that stereotypes of masculinity play in the adoption of risk behaviors, and how these affect other social groups, are relevant strategies not only for reducing men’s disease burden, but also as a mechanism for closing health gaps.
Tania Marín Macías is a physician with a master’s degree in international health. She currently collaborates as a fellow in the Division of Social Protection and Health at IDB.