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gary mason

Guy walks into the doctor's office complaining about seeing spots. "Have you seen a doctor before?" the receptionist asks. "No," the man answers. "Only spots."

It's an old joke sometimes trotted out at medical conferences by those talking about men's health and the reluctance many have about seeing a physician. On average, men are much less likely than women to visit a family doctor. Men are less likely to do a lot of things, such as work out, drink alcohol in moderation or kick the smoking habit – lifestyle choices that come at a significant cost.

Some of the statistics compiled by the Vancouver-based Canadian Men's Health Foundation are staggering. Consider that men are 79 per cent more likely to die from heart disease than are women, and 57 per cent more likely to die from diabetes. Men account for 82 per cent of alcohol-related deaths in this country and about 80 per cent of suicides.

We are 29 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and 40 per cent more likely to die as a result. Nearly 70 per cent of Canadian men are overweight or considered technically obese. On average, men have more than nine years of what is considered "unhealthy life," mostly related to medical issues considered preventable. And then there is this: Senior-aged widows outnumbered senior-aged widowers four to one last year. (Widows accounted for 45 per cent of all women 65 and older.)

There are many theories about why men don't concern themselves with personal health matters to the extent that women do. One is that, historically, women have been the custodians of health in the family, according to Colin Cooper, head of the London-based Everyman Centre, Europe's first research centre dedicated to male cancer. Men are less inclined to talk about personal health matters; they'd prefer to banter about sports.

Men are less concerned about availing themselves of tests for ailments that might not have yet manifested themselves. One recent U.S. study indicated that men are 40 per cent more likely than women to skip exams, such as cholesterol screenings, that could detect problems that become untreatable if discovered later.

The Canadian Men's Health Foundation is expected to publish the results of a study next week that looks at the economic cost associated with the poor health choices men are making. The analysis calculates that the total impact on the economy in 2013 was about $36.9-billion.

The foundation was founded last year by Larry Goldenberg, a professor and former head of urologic sciences at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Goldenberg wants to see more attention brought to men's health issues. Given the economic impact of health-care costs, you'd think there would be more interest at the political level in this country in seeing what could be done to help men get their heads out of the sand and face some hard truths.

But there hasn't been. Maybe it's because politics in Canada is dominated by men.

Or maybe people feel it's just futile. Men are innately stubborn creatures who don't like to be told what to do. It's why we prefer to drive around in circles in a foreign city rather than consult a map or GPS. We trust our instincts even when they've been demonstrated to be woefully inadequate. In trying to mount a campaign to draw attention to men's health, the foundation decided it was a subject best approached with humour; anything deemed to be lecturing would be instantly rejected by men, it was felt.

Frankly, I don't understand why many men view their health with such disregard. I've never felt the least bit uncomfortable about seeing my doctor, regardless of how seemingly innocuous my issue. I'd prefer to extend my stay on this planet for as long as I can. There are too many places I haven't visited yet, too many fish I've yet to catch.

When it comes to differences in life expectancy, they say that one year is biological and the rest is cultural. If that's the case, we need a culture change in this country and the sooner the better.

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