Men’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region

Jim Geraghty is a 65-year-old farmer from Tullamore, Ireland who suffers a heart condition. In this short film, he offers insights into how notions of masculinity affected his decision to seek medical help.

Men in the WHO European Region are living healthier and longer lives than before. However, men’s life expectancy varies between countries by up to 17 years, and within-country differences between men from different socioeconomic backgrounds remain large.

The higher risk for premature mortality for men compared to women and the large differences among men are almost considered natural phenomena. We know that biology alone cannot explain health differences and inequities. Just as for women, men’s behaviours, exposure to risk, health-seeking patterns, and the responses they receive from the system, are influenced by many factors. Growing evidence on the effectiveness of gender-responsive approaches to men’s health, and the positive health impact of gender equality policy on men, need to be considered to improve the health of men and women.

Of all male deaths, 86% can be attributed to noncommunicable diseases and injuries. The main disease-related killers are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and respiratory diseases. Injuries are the second leading cause of premature death among men and the main cause of death for boys aged 5–19 in the Region. Compared to women, men go less frequently to the doctor’s and consistently report less unmet health-care needs. Men across socioeconomic groups demonstrate unhealthier smoking practices, unhealthier dietary patterns, higher alcohol consumption levels and higher rates of injuries and interpersonal violence than women. Men’s risk-taking behaviours and under-use of services are consistent across many countries and are linked to socioeconomic factors as well as to norms around masculinities and hegemonic ideals.

Improving the health and well-being of men and that of women are complementary objectives that are best addressed within a gender equality framework. Engaging men and facilitating their participation in paid and unpaid care, prevention of violence against women and sharing responsibility for reproductive health are key interventions needed to achieve global goals on gender equality and to accelerate progress in achieving health goals.

In advancing the European policy framework for health and well-being, Health 2020, and supporting Member States in realizing the integrated nature of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, WHO/Europe is strengthening its focus on gender- and rights-based approaches to transformative progress for health and health equity. The strategies on women’s and men’s health and well-being are complementary and provide the foundation for collaboration on gender-responsive action for health in the Region.