Dear Mr. Dad: I’m 15, and my father, who’s in his mid-40s, regularly reads your column, which is why I need your help. He barely exercises, eats horribly, is an over-stressed workaholic. I’m afraid he’s going to die. What can my mom and I do to get him to take better care of himself?
A: Your email couldn’t have come at a better time — June is Men’s Health Month — and it gives me the perfect opportunity to highlight the massive public health crisis that too many of us aren’t aware of: On average, men die five years younger than women, and die at higher rates of nine of the top 10 causes of death. Men account for over 90 percent of workplace injuries and fatalities, are far less likely than women to be insured, and are half as likely to see a doctor for preventive care. All of this impacts their ability to be involved fathers, supportive partners, and engaged community members.
There are quite a few things you can do to help your dad — and even more that all of us can do to help other men. Let’s start with dad:
Appeal to his provider-protector. Over the years, I’ve found that the biggest reason men disregard their own health is that they’re too busy taking care of everyone else. What they don’t realize, however, is that if they die early, they’ll be hurting the very people they’ve worked so hard to protect. So remind him that you and your mom love him and need him to be alive and healthy for as long as possible.
Encourage him to get a physical. Most of the factors that contribute to men’s shorter, less-healthy lives are preventable. And that prevention starts with seeing a healthcare provider on a regular basis. Establishing baseline for factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and PSA (a screening test for prostate cancer risk) — and monitoring how they change over time — will enable the provider to catch potentially dangerous conditions early, when they’re still treatable. You can download a helpful chart of recommended screenings at http://getitchecked.com.
Pay attention to the basics. Rather than simply telling your dad to exercise, eat right, and manage his stress and then hoping that he will, do it with him. Take him out for walks and make sure the fridge is well-stocked with healthy foods. Simple, yes, but not easy.
Now, here are a few ideas for what the rest of us can do:
Wear blue. In 1994, Congress passed a bill declaring the week before Father’s Day as Men’s Health Week (this year, it’s June 11-17). Encourage everyone you know to wear something blue that week, take pictures of each other, and show your support by posting them to social media with #ShowUsYourBlue.
Get inspired. Men’s Health Network (the DC-based nonprofit that helped pass Men’s Health Week, and that I’ve worked closely with for more than 20 years) has collected more than 300 proclamations from governors, mayors, and Native American communities recognizing Men’s Health Month (and Week) and the important part that fathers play as role models for their children, and how much better off kids are when they have an actively involved dad in their life. See them at http://www.menshealthmonth.org. And learn more at http://www.menshealthnetwork.org
Get involved. Did you know that under the Affordable Care Act, women and girls can receive an annual well-woman visit as well as screenings for mental health issues and STDs — all for free? Amazingly, none of those services are available to men or boys. I encourage everyone to write to their congressperson and senators and urge them to end this glaring gender discrimination. Denying men and boys the same protections that are available to women and girls is, quite simply, killing people.
Read Armin Brott’s blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad