The health of New Zealand men is slowly improving, and is relatively high by international standards. Men’s health advocates argue that further improvements can be made through:
- encouraging people to stop smoking, and promoting non-smoking as the norm to children
- promoting healthier diets, especially by reducing consumption of fat, salt and sugar, and reducing the exposure of children to the advertising of unhealthy foods
- encouraging more physical activity
- finding ways to reduce road traffic deaths.
Although ethnic and socio-economic inequalities in male death, disease and injury rates are no longer increasing, they remain a serious challenge.
The continuing ageing of the male population has important implications, as increasing age is an important risk factor for chronic diseases and dementia.
Talking to the blokes
In September 2009 the Prostate Cancer Foundation gave a presentation to men on the Chatham Islands. At least 40 men were there, and Joe Tapara, a member of the Chatham Islands Māori Community Health Care group, explained why: ‘The wives and the partners were the reason why so many men turned up. Without them nagging, I’m not sure how many would have bothered.’
Women’s health has made notable gains, for example with screening programmes for cervical and breast cancer, partly through the work of women’s non-government health organisations. There have been fewer men’s health groups. One example is the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which in 2016 had 28 support groups nationwide and worked to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancers. From 2008 the Cancer Society and Mental Health Foundation combined to promote Movember, in which men grew moustaches in November to draw attention to – and raise funds for – men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer and depression.
The MENZSHED movement developed in the 2010s as a way of bringing men together through practical tasks such as woodwork or carpentry in ‘sheds’ – places where they could share skills and establish friendships. The movement also shares information on issues such as testing for prostate cancer. MENZSHED members are mainly middle-aged or retired.
The challenge for New Zealand men is to build a sustainable and evidence-based movement for promoting their health which addresses the underlying determinants of premature death and disease.