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More than luck

By Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

“A brush with mortality turns out to be the best way to appreciate how blue the sky is,
how sensuous grass feels underfoot, how melodious kids’ voices are,” wrote Nicholas D.
Kristof in a recent New York Times op-ed piece
( Mr. Kristof was fortunate,
even lucky to have been found with a malignant tumor on his kidney after a CT scan was
ordered for another part of his body. Despite survival rates of less than 50% for kidney
cancer, a three-hour operation merely weeks ago left him with a six-inch scar, but more
importantly, another chance to appreciate the finer things in life – to “seize the day” more

From my perspective Mr. Kristof had a little more than luck on his side. It is apparent
that Mr. Kristof is a proactive participant in his health. Having been aware enough to
notice a problem and the initiative to consult his physician are behaviors that should be
encouraged, especially within the male population. From the stories I have heard in the
past from male participants at health education events and fairs, most had not seen a
physician for a routine visit in at least 10 years - some even longer! Female participants
on the other hand, have engaged me with questions regarding their concern for their
significant other. This difference in health-seeking behaviors mentioned above partly
explains the health disparities presented below:

Life Expectancy at Birth, 2007

Leading Causes of Death, 2006

Men have a higher death rate for most of the leading causes of death:

Cause of Death Men Women

Heart disease 248.5 162.2
Cancer 220.1 153.6
Injuries (unintentional) 55.2 25.5
Cerebrovascular disease 43.9 42.6

Health can be viewed as a resource for living and it plays a vital role in an individual’s
quality of life, as well his educational, social and professional pursuits. The significant
gap in life expectancy results from poorer health outcomes because men are less likely to
receive preventive health care and as a consequence, are diagnosed with chronic illnesses
at later stages compared to women, thus reducing their likelihood of positive prognoses,
therefore increasing costs of treatment and rehabilitation and decreasing their levels of

When an individual succumbs to illness, the people around them are also affected. Take
for instance a family that temporarily loses its primary source of income because its
financial provider begins to undergo treatments for lung cancer. Both the immediate and
extended family will directly experience personal as well as financial burdens. In
addition, many others will experience the health problem indirectly, including the
individual’s employer, co-workers and others in the individual’s direct social network.
Therefore, as men continue to struggle with reduced health outcomes when compared to
women, many others are also affected simultaneously and actually struggle with them. Is
it reasonable to allow approximately 150 million Americans to live with reduced health

Men: take the time this month to assess your health, because we can’t always count on
luck to be on our side.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any ideas on how we can change how men view
health at