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Friday, June 15, 2012

Dads, on Father's Day, Commit to Giving Us Back a Healthy You

Jamille Fields

Staff Writer

Father's Day is the time of the year that we celebrate some of the most important men in our lives—and, it's a great time to think about how we keep these men healthy. Women have outlived men for as long as we've been keeping track, and it's not just because we are better than they are at most things. But seriously, women on average live five years longer than men, and while many factors contribute to this statistic, two things we do know are 1) that men are less likely to visit the doctor than women and that 2) men suffer from certain illnesses at higher rates than women do. Maybe it is the infamous male ego's need to say, "I can handle it." Maybe it is their focus on taking care of the family while shrugging off their own health with, "that cough will go away." Maybe men feel that being a "good provider" means that they take the money they would spend on doctors and tests and spend it on their children. Whatever the cause, the result is too many of us are losing too many of them too soon. So this Father's Day, let's make sure our dads, grandpas, brothers, boyfriends, and husbands know that in exchange for the new tie, new toolbox, or new cologne, we'd love to hear them say, "the best thing I can give you in return is a healthy me."

Luckily, thanks to the health care law, men have one fewer reason not to go to the doctor—insurance plans will be required to provide preventive care at no cost. Men are particularly vulnerable to a number of illnesses that can be prevented, delayed, and if caught early, effectively managed. For example, the leading cause of death among men is heart disease. Men are more likely to smoke and more likely to have high blood pressure at a younger age. If you look at cancers that affect both sexes, men are one- third more likely than women to develop colorectal cancer, the second leading cancer killer in the United States. And then there is prostate cancer, which is by far the leading cancer among men. Prostate cancer, can make them too sick to work, or worse, lead to death. For African-American men, it is even worse: They consistently have the highest rate of the disease and are twice as likely as white men to die from it. You can find similar racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes.

The reasons why men tend to suffer from these illnesses more often than women are many and vary with each specific group of men; however, what is certain is that these diseases can be avoided, complications can be minimized, and lives can be saved when prevention is taken seriously. First, there are the things men can do themselves, without having to see a doctor. Heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes can be prevented with healthy lifestyle behaviors, including not smoking, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, taking walks at lunch, tossing a ball with the kids, and even taking the time to relax with loved ones.

But then there is the prevention that requires going to the doctor to catch problems early and save a lot of money, heartache, and lives. It is important that his blood pressure is checked regularly, which more than half of Americans do not do. For cancer, a critical step to avoiding grave consequences is screening. Colorectal cancer screening can find precancerous polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer, and even if cancerous cells have already developed, early screening allows for early treatment, which saves lives. Similarly, early detection of prostate cancer may make treatment more successful. The health care law will help men get the preventive care they need at no cost. This includes nutrition counseling for high-risk adults, smoking and tobacco use cessation, blood pressure checks, and screenings for colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and diabetes. Prevention and early detection can extend men's lives to allow for many more years of the wisdom only fathers can give and the warmth only felt from grandpas' hugs.

As Father's Day approaches, let's make a point of urging the men in our lives to make a commitment to their health by moving toward a healthier lifestyle and scheduling that check-up. Thanks to the health care law, cost is no longer an excuse for them to not to take care of themselves. Fathers, you have given so much to your children, spouse, friends, and careers, don’t forget to give them a healthy you for many more years to come.