Story: Men’s health

The Movember initiative sees men around New Zealand grow moustaches to raise awareness of male health issues. Increasing attention was paid to men’s health in the 21st century – yet male life expectancy remained nearly four years less than that of women.

Story by Robert Beaglehole
Main image: Peter Snell, aged 70

Story summary

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Women’s health has been more widely discussed than men’s health, both by the medical profession and by interest groups. Male illnesses such as prostate cancer have only been discussed publicly in the 21st century.

Life expectancy

Men’s life expectancy was 79.5 years in 2012–14, 3.7 years less than that of women. However, the gap between male and female life expectancy had shrunk in the previous decade. Māori men’s life expectancy was 7.3 years less than that of non-Māori men, and low-income men were more likely to die at a younger age than wealthier men.

Causes of death and illness

In 2013 the leading cause of death for men was heart disease, followed by stroke and lung cancer. Death rates were higher for Māori men, many of whom died from diabetes. Road accidents and suicide were also significant causes of death, especially for younger men.

The most common mental health problem was depression. Men’s dementia rates were likely to increase as the male population aged.

Risk factors

Risk factors for the major causes of death and disease are well known and preventable. They include:

  • smoking. In 2014/15, 18% of men aged 15 and over were smokers. The rates were higher for Māori, Pasifika and low-income men.
  • poor diet and lack of exercise, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. In 2014/15, 29% of men were obese.
  • alcohol. Drinking heavily can lead to physical and mental illness, as well as road accidents and violence. Younger men, and Māori and Pasifika men, were more likely to drink heavily.

Macho culture can encourage men to take risks such as drinking too much, driving fast and playing dangerous sports – all of which can lead to accidents. Men also use health services less than women do.

Men’s health initiatives

Women’s health groups are more common than men’s groups. From 2008 the Cancer Society and Mental Health Foundation worked together on Movember, a public health initiative in which men are sponsored to grow moustaches during November. It draws attention to – and raises money for – men’s health issues such as prostate cancer and depression.

How to cite this page:

Robert Beaglehole, 'Men’s health', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Robert Beaglehole, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 28 April 2020, updated 1 July 2017