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Men and Their Health: They Don't Want to Talk About It

Boomers especially closemouthed, says new survey

Men and Their Health: They Don't Want to Talk About It


A survey finds that many men would rather talk about sports than their health.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, a new Cleveland Clinic survey finds that most men — and boomer men in particular — don't like talking about their health.

The national telephone survey of about 500 men ages 18 to 70 found that most would rather talk with their guy friends about current events, sports, their job, their kids — in other words, just about anything other than the state of their health.

When they do open up with their pals, men are most comfortable describing close calls or sports injuries. But forget about them discussing any bedroom or bathroom problems with the fellas. Not gonna happen.

"There's still a lot of embarrassment about talking about certain subjects," Eric Klein, M.D., chairman of the Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, said in an interview.

According to the survey, 53 percent of men said that their health just isn't something they talk about. They even drag their feet about seeing a doctor. About 60 percent said they only go after a symptom or problem becomes unbearable. Some 20 percent admitted the only reason they see the doctor is to stop a spouse or significant other from nagging.

"Frankly, that surprised me," said Klein with a laugh. "I thought it'd be a lot higher, judging by what I hear from my male patients."

The survey was part of a push to get men to pay attention to their health, and to find out if men knew at what age to get preventive screenings, like a baseline PSA test or a colonoscopy.

The answer: Many of them haven't a clue — especially those under 50.

"It was a little surprising and disappointing that so many men didn't know the screening recommendations," Klein said. "Even in the internet age, there's more progress to be made in terms of education."

The survey divided the results by generation: millennials (ages 18 to 35), Gen Xers (36 to 51) and boomers (52 to 70).

Boomers were the most private about health matters. Nearly 50 percent won't discuss health with their male friends because they "don't feel it's any of their business." And while 54 percent would discuss it with their spouse or significant other, 26 percent don't discuss private topics with anyone.

Millennials and Gen Xers were more forthcoming. Close to half of millennials and 44 percent of Gen Xers in the survey said they had more than one person with whom they could discuss health topics, compared with just 29 percent of boomers.

Klein said the survey's findings have changed what he talks about with his male patients. "My practice is mostly prostate cancer, but since the survey, I try to educate men about other aspects of their health, like exercise, diet, not smoking, and getting other preventive screenings."

He also directs them to the Cleveland Clinic's new website, MENtion It, which includes information on an array of health topics for men.

Here are some of the other survey results:

* For some reason, having kids makes men less talkative about their health. Men who haven't had kids are most open to talking with their male friends about their health — about 52 percent say they have confided in friends, compared with only 36 percent of men with children.

* Heart attack worries slightly outrank concerns about cancer. About 44 percent of men are most concerned about preventing a heart attack; 42 percent are worried about cancer. Interestingly, men are just as concerned about gaining weight (24 percent) as having a stroke (23 percent).

* What concerns men most about their life in the next 10 years? For boomer men, it's a tie between their health and the well-being of their family, with financial stability a distant third. For those under 50, well-being of family and financial stability are more important than their own health.

* Only 35 percent of men across all age groups knew that age 50 is the correct age to start being tested for colon and rectal cancer with a colonoscopy, although boomers were considerably more likely to know than men under 50.

* Although the Urology Care Foundation recommends that healthy, low-risk men get a PSA test for prostate cancer beginning at age 55, on average, survey respondents across all age groups thought they should start at age 42.