Men must help themselves

Men are less likely than women to seek treatment for health problems, but lecturing them won’t help

Special to The TribuneOctober 13, 2011 

‘He just doesn’t take care of himself,” the woman complained in my office. She was frustrated because her husband refused to treat his high blood pressure or eat the healthy meals she prepared for their dinner.

This wife is certainly not alone. A huge number of married women struggle with their mates’ indifference to their health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men smoke more, drink more, and engage in riskier behaviors such as reckless driving than their female counterparts.

Women are also more likely to see their doctors about specific concerns, to get annual flu shots and to schedule routine screenings, such as colonoscopies.

It’s no wonder that the life expectancy of American women is 80.69 years compared to men’s 78.11.

Some of the disparity may be attributed to men’s “macho” attitudes. A recently released study from Rutgers University found that men who believed in rigid gender roles (like the notion that men should be the breadwinners while women remain at home) were 46 percent less likely than their more liberal-thinking buddies to seek out vital life-saving preventive health care.

Another reason may be that women are the family’s traditional caretakers. They call the pediatrician when their toddler has asthma. They dole out the Flintstones Chewables with the glass of orange juice.

Whatever the cause, women are justified in their concern. Not only are they pressed into duty when their guys are sidelined with a flare-up of sciatica, but they face the real possibility of being the long-term caregiver to a mate who is in poor health.

Of course, illness and disability aren’t unique to men. Women also get sick and injured, and can require ongoing assistance from spouses.

Still, women do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to health care at home. And they resort to no end of nagging in the hopes that partners will climb aboard the nutrition-and-lifestyle team bus.

But lecturing usually proves futile. Guys seldom mend their ways as a result of haranguing. They’re apt to dig in their heels and feel picked on. Wives can’t dictate the culinary tastes of their partners. Nor can they make them eat more fiber if they refuse to.

Yes, women can effect changes in the household. But they may not be the exact ones they ordered. They’ll arrive on Greenwich Men Time. And they’ll be most successful if they’re accompanied by love and support.

Tips for promoting a healthier lifestylez

Want to direct your man toward better habits?

Try these suggestions:

• Serve healthy meals. If you’rethe primary chef for your clan, formulate menus around the freshest and lowest fat foods you can find. Even if he demands steak and potatoes, you can make the portions smaller and serve plenty of colorful veggies on the side.

• Get rid of junk food. Unless he demands you keep Cheetos in the cupboard, leave high calorie snack foods on the shelves in the store. If he does have a sweet tooth or crave munchies, look for alternatives that are less processed and pass them out with a frugal hand.

• Manage your own waistline. Studies show that when one member of a couple is obese, the other is likely to be overweight, too. Take control of your own body fat. Your behavior will rub off on him.

• Be a good role model. You set the tone for the family’s health. When you’re regularly going to the gym or hiking San Luis Mountain he’s more likely to follow suit.

• Schedule joint appointments whenever possible. He may be reluctant to call the doctor’s office but be willing to go in if you do. Tell him your plans. Allow him the option of coming, too.

• Don’t make a scene. Avoid nagging or lecturing him about his health. Those tactics do more harm than good. Instead, downplay his resistance. It needn’t mar an otherwise sound relationship.

• Focus on his strengths. There was a reason you selected this partner. Recall why you fell in love. Even though he’s lax about his health care, he’s still the man you chose. Make him feel cherished and special. He just may be more cooperative if you do.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit

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