Men fall victim to preventable lifestyle diseases

Many avoid check-ups for so long that their physical health regress

Sibongile Mashaba Deputy News Editor
Men often neglect to schedule their necessary health screenings, endangering their lives unnecessarily.
Men often neglect to schedule their necessary health screenings, endangering their lives unnecessarily.
Image: 123RF

Society demands of men to always be strong, not to show emotions or pain.

And how about taking their health seriously? Men often shy away from seeking medical attention – until it is too late.

Ekurhuleni municipal spokesperson Zweli Dlamini says men’s and boys’ health is important not only for their wellbeing but also for society.

He says the city is using June, which marks Men’s Health Month, to shed some light on the neglected aspects of men’s and boys’ health.

“…while exploring the barriers to care, and societal influences and actions needed to empower men and boys to prioritise their wellbeing. This is done to… heighten awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases among men and boys,” says Dlamini.

“Though general health awareness is increasingly prioritised, discussions addressing men’s and boys’ health are not given adequate attention. Men’s and boys’ health is an important but frequently ignored aspect in many communities despite efforts to raise awareness about it. There is a cultural expectation for men to be strong in all circumstances. Men and boys are also taught to be self-reliant, which makes them feel the pressure to be strong even when they need to shed tears.”

He says the phrase “Indoda ayikhali (a man does not cry)” is “a masculine norm that forces and hinders men and boys from showing vulnerability or expressing their emotions”.

“Stigma and such expectations can discourage men and boys from seeking help whenever a need arises. Societies need to understand everyone has emotions and moments of vulnerability, regardless of gender.

“According to the World Health Organisation, millions of men around the world die due to entirely preventable lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease; lung disease; colon and prostate cancers; diabetes and liver disease. The city urges men and boys to prioritise their health by seeking early detection of ailments through regular visits to healthcare facilities, healthy eating and physical fitness,” says Dlamini.

Bestmed Medical Scheme marketing and communications manager Denelle Morais, says it is the perfect time to raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys, where increased awareness of such issues could make a significant difference.

Men tend to bow to cultural norms and societal pressure, meaning they are hesitant to appear weak or vulnerable. This leads them to avoid check-ups for so long that their physical health has often regressed to a point where it might be too late.

“Furthermore, many men often neglect to schedule their necessary health screenings, just as they are when it comes to eating a healthy diet or talking with medical professionals about stress. This is why it’s important for men to be proactive about their health by scheduling regular check-ups and seeking treatment early for concerning symptoms.”

Morias says the three biggest health challenges men face are the threats of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer, including prostate and testicular cancer.

“Cardiovascular disease is dangerous as it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, two leading causes of death among men. Guarding against this begins with lifestyle choices. When it comes to diabetes, men need to be aware that they should be screened for the disease from the age of 45. If left untreated, high blood may lead to heart disease or strokes, as well as damage to the kidneys, nerves, and eyes, among other issues.

“Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. Statistics indicate that on average, the lifetime risk for prostate cancer in men in SA is one in 15. Much like with testicular cancer, early detection of prostate cancer improves the chances of a positive outcome, which is why men over the age of 40 should be undertaking regular prostate screenings,” Morais says.

Over the last three years, the scheme’s statistics have shown that preventative screening benefits (such as prostate-specific antigen) have been accessed by only 14% of men over 40 year-on-year, dropping from the previous 16% in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

However, there’s an increase in 2024, with almost 19% accessing preventative screenings in the first few months of the year.

“We understand that many men find the dreaded ‘prostate check’ terrifying, so much so that this form of cancer, which is highly treatable in its early stages, often goes undetected until it is too late. We, therefore, are encouraged by the rising screening numbers and further encourage monthly testicular self-examinations, as well as annual medical check-ups,” says Morais.

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