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Release: June 14, 1999

Men encouraged to take preventive health care steps

Editor's note: June 14-20 is National Men's Health Week

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Nationwide, only about four of 11 adults visiting physicians are men, although they die on average seven years earlier than women. Many men could live healthier and longer by regularly visiting a physician for basic treatment and examinations -- before symptoms become critical.

This is the message the National Men's Health Foundation and U.S. Congress want to share with men and their families by designating the week leading up to Father's Day, June 14-20, as National Men's Health Week. Preventive care is also a message physicians with University of Iowa Health Care try to get across to men year-round. But what keeps men from taking a more active role in their own health care?

"Women do a good job of coming in for annual exams, but men rarely come in on a scheduled basis unless something is bothering them," said Daniel Fick, M.D., UI associate professor (clinical) of family medicine. "Many men won't take time off work for a preventive health care appointment. They may not seek preventive care because deep down they're worried about being lectured that the way they're living isn't healthy."

Fick recommends that men get a baseline physical from a primary care provider with whom they can make a plan for ongoing preventive health care.

"The baseline assessment will determine how often you need to come back," said Fick, who notes that not everyone needs a yearly physical.

"Someone who smokes and has high cholesterol and high blood pressure may need an annual exam, but a non-smoker in his early 40s who is healthy doesn't need to come in as frequently," he said. Recent headlines may confuse many people about the need for exams to check for prostate cancer. Fick says the prostate-specific antigen test should be administered depending on age and symptoms of prostate enlargement. He routinely does not use the PSA test for patients in their 40s or younger. While many men focus on prostate cancer concerns, there are other factors affecting their

health that often miss their attention. Fick points to the stress and poor nutrition that accompany working late, attending many business meetings, adhering to tight deadlines or grabbing food on the run.

"The skills that have allowed a lot of men to be successful on the job don't reward them when it comes to their health," he said. He adds that men frequently smoke or drink too much.

Fick tries to help his patients understand that their lifestyles can catch up with them and cause serious problems. At the same time, he tries not to overwhelm them with too many recommendations at one time for changing their behavior.

"I try to focus on one or two problems they don't view as a threat, such as smoking," he said. "They may not feel the negative effects at 40 or 50, but it can kill them."

He urges men to cut out tobacco use entirely and keep moderation in mind when it comes to food and alcohol. It's also important to exercise regularly and find healthy ways of managing stress, he adds.

Men in their 30s and younger are at greatest risk of dying from accidents, suicide, homicide or AIDS. Once men reach their 40s, they are at increased risk of dying due to a heart attack or cancer.

At the UI, research in areas such as prostate cancer and heart care are helping bring more effective treatments to men, but prevention beginning in the younger age groups is one of the best ways for men to keep healthy.

To help men make a plan for healthy living, the National Men's Health Week Foundation is

offering a free "Men's Maintenance Manual," developed in cooperation with the American Academy of Family Physicians. For a copy, call (800) 955-2002 or make an on-line request at

As with all medical care, first consult your personal physician before making changes in your health management, such as beginning an exercise program.