The Risky Lives of American Men

They're far ahead of women when it comes to dying, study finds

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By
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 29, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- There's this odd thing about American men: They're a lot sicker than women, and die a lot sooner.

At every age, American males have poorer health and a higher death rate than their female counterparts, says David R. Williams, a senior research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Williams lays it out in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health: If you take the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, men come in first in all but one, Alzheimer's disease. Their death rates are at least twice as high as women for suicide, homicide, cirrhosis of the liver, and accidents.

Those numbers hint that there are men who are not following the rules of healthy, lawful behavior, Williams acknowledges. More important, he says, is that the American picture of the macho man leads to destructive behavior.

"A good example is how men respond to stress," he says. "Women are more likely than men to seek social support, particularly from other women. Men are more likely to believe that any expression of distress shows their susceptibility, so they are more likely to turn to substances."

So men are more likely to smoke cigarettes (26 percent, compared to 22 percent of women) and twice as likely to have five or more drinks a day, Williams says.

In addition, men are more likely to work dangerous jobs, he says; 90 percent of on-the-job deaths kill men.

Farming is one field in which men tend to dominate and which abounds in dangers. Another report, delivered quite coincidentally at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meeting in Atlanta this week, illustrates one of those dangers. Men are more than twice as likely to die during thunderstorms, according to Thomas J. Songer, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

There were 1,442 thunderstorm-related deaths in this country from 1994 through 2000, Songer's research finds, and 70 percent of the corpses were male. Most involved either lightning strikes or flash floods, with a few caused by tornadoes.

One reason why men are more likely to die in a thunderstorm is that they tend to do the macho, hence dangerous thing. In a low-lying area, where the danger is drowning, men will often drive around a barrier, and drown.

"Driving around a barrier is not a smart thing to do," Songer says.

Williams is more concerned with everyday perils. One thing society can do is restructure factories and other workplaces so they are less dangerous, he says. Another is to improve the quality of education.

"Education is very significant because a lot of the problems men face begin early in life," Williams says. "Two-thirds of men in the prison population are high school dropouts. Being a dropout puts a man on a trajectory toward economic failure that can lead to violent behavior."

But one real demand, Williams says, is that "we need a new definition of masculinity that includes greater responsibility for oneself."

More information

Guidelines to a healthy lifestyle for both men and women are offered by the American Heart Association. Information on thunderstorm safety is given by Collier County, Florida.

SOURCES: David R. Williams, Ph.D., senior research scientist, University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor; Thomas J. Songer, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; May 2003 American Journal of Public Health

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