This week, June 15 to 21, marks Men’s Health Week. Celebrated internationally, the purpose of this week is to raise the awareness of preventable health problems, and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.
This year, Men’s Health Week offers an opportunity to shine a light on the urgent matter of preventing the spread of the coronavirus—which is hitting men particularly hard. Evidence shows a grim reality: all over the world, more men are dying from COVID-19 than women.
In the face of these sobering statistics, many are wondering why this is happening and what men can do to protect themselves.
Additionally, this disparity poses an opportunity for population health management leaders to consider steps they can take to help curb these numbers.
Why is this happening?
Since this virus is so new, scientists don’t know the exact cause of this gender imbalance; but, medical experts suspect that a reason for this may have to do with biological disadvantages. Evidence shows that men have differences in their genetic and hormonal makeups that can make it harder for their bodies to fight infection, in comparison to women. This makes them more vulnerable to falling more severely ill and dying from COVID-19.
Another factor that may be contributing to the higher rate of coronavirus-related deaths among men is behavior. A recent study indicates that men are less likely to perceive themselves to be at risk for COVID-19 and less likely to take steps that reduce the spread of the virus, such as wearing face coverings. Men in this survey were more likely to say that they felt that wearing a face covering is “shameful” or a “sign of weakness.” Another study showed similar results among older men. In response to the study’s survey conducted in late March, older men were more likely to report that they felt people were overreacting to the coronavirus and that they were not worried about catching it or dying from it. They also said that they were less likely to wash their hands more, be more careful about cleanliness, or stop touching their own faces, as compared to their female counterparts. This reluctance to adopting harm-reduction practices falls in line with gender norms that suggest men are less likely to prioritize their health. On a larger scale, this resistance to taking preventative action can contribute to an increased risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
What can men do to protect themselves?
While men can’t change their biology, they can control their actions. For this reason, it is especially important for men to focus on the steps they can take to prevent COVID-19. The CDC guidelines, which emphasize education, personal hygiene, cleanliness, monitoring one’s health, and avoiding close contact with others, are a good place to start. However, lacking self-motivation may be a challenging barrier to overcome. This is where population health management interventions may be helpful.
What role can population health management experts play?
Population health management strategies that involve targeted messaging and programming can have the power to influence attitudes, behaviors, and—ultimately—health outcomes. As new data and research that identify populations who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus continue to be published, opportunities for evidence-based campaigns continue to emerge.
Population health management campaigns can be multifaceted, with broad messaging distributed through collateral in tandem with targeted calls from health coaches. “When coaching members, our goal is to maintain a patient-centered philosophy in which we meet the patients where they are—we want to recognize patients’ concerns, preferences, and values,” says Linda Powers, RN, a health coach community leader at Health Dialog. “With men, we often find that we need to push a little more to get at the story behind their health and their health management behavior—and once we get at their story, we can start working toward behavior change.” This philosophy of meeting members where they are can be used in all messaging, regardless of how it is distributed.
Grounded in this philosophy, a campaign may be able to use a sensitive, thought-provoking headline, actionable behavior-changes suggestions, and relatable images to help a man reflect on what is holding him back from taking preventative steps, which could help him reframe why it is important for him to protect himself from COVID-19. For example, effective messaging could help a member see how his actions also impact his community, his family, or his coworkers—a revelation that may result in him being more conscientious about using proper handwashing techniques. This is a population health management strategy at play.
As time goes on and the circumstances of the pandemic evolve, population health management strategies will also evolve to target new behavior-change needs. Thinking toward the future, if a new vaccine for the novel coronavirus becomes available, people would need to visit their primary care physician, pharmacy, or other clinical setting to get the vaccine in order for the nation to reach herd immunity. Targeted campaigns can address this developing public health emergency, every step of the way.
Whatever the catalyst, small behavior changes add up to population-level changes—the kinds of changes that can make striking impacts, such as chipping away at the number of coronavirus cases, and maybe even death rates.