Women more likely to report poor health

Women more likely to report poor health

In the UK, women are more likely to report poor health than men, but this is not reflected in the rates of death among the sexes later on, according to a new national study.

The findings of the research are reported in an article in Population Trends, published by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 25 March.

The researchers used data from three census-based longitudinal studies now available for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland and looked for links between self-rated health reported by men and women aged 35-74 at the time of the 2001 Census and their mortality from the time of the 2001 Census until 30 June 2006.

The results showed that in all of the countries of the UK, there was generally a strong association between people reporting their health as "not good" or "fairly good" and the rate of death in the following 5 years.

However, women were more likely than men to report their health as "not good" or "fairly good", but less likely to die in the following 5 years.

Commenting on the findings, Peter Baker, Chief Executive of the Men's Health Forum told the BBC that men tended to be less aware of their symptoms than women, and also more reluctant to seek help.

Perhaps this tendency for men to be reluctant to seek help and report ill health is because it is seen as a sign of weakness.

In an interview reported in a feature on how men and women handle stress that appears in the A to Z health pages of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Richard Driscoll PhD, who wrote the book "The Stronger Sex" said:

"... for hundreds of thousands of years, men who revealed their weaknesses tended to be undesirable mates. Hiding weaknesses has been biologically advantageous, and men still tend to be less likely to reveal weaknesses."

Driscoll believes men's reluctance to reveal weakness and reach out for help could partly explain the difference in life expectancy between the genders.

"Women get more medical care; they consume two out of three healthcare dollars [in the US]," he said, adding that women are also more likely to seek help from therapists, whereas men don't reach out and they don't get the healthcare.

Doctors also agree that men tend not to report symptoms.

Dr Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the BBC that men should be encouraged to reveal health problems earlier. He said women tend to be better at disclosing their health concerns than men.

He said men with concerns should talk to their GP, but also that the health system should do more to make it easier for men to access healthcare, through suitable hours, venues and offering more consultations over the phone or via the computer.

"Self-rated health and mortality in the UK: results from the first comparative analysis 11 of the England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Longitudinal Studies."

Harriet Young, Emily Grundy, Dermot O'Reilly, Paul Boyle

Population Trends 139, Office for National Statistics, 25 March 2010, pages 11-36 (PDF).

Sources: ONS, UPMC, BBC.

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Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice