New publication reflects strengthening focus on men’s health

Published 03 May 2011

reviewA special issue of a leading academic sociology journal, Health Sociology Review (HSR), indicates that much work will be required to significantly improve the health and wellbeing of men in Western society.

The special issue of HSR on men’s health will be launched in Melbourne tomorrow [Wednesday 4 May] by the Federal Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt. The nine research papers in the issue, by international experts from Australia, Canada, the United States and Ireland, cover topics such as male body image and identity, suicide by mass murder, masculinity and depression, and boys’ health literacy.

In their introductory essay, the editors of the special issue – Dr John Scott and Professor Victor Minichiello from the University of New England and Professor Gary Dowsett from La Trobe University – say that the research papers “reveal how men’s health is intrinsically interwoven with the concept of masculinity”.

“This means that there are huge challenges ahead of us in changing a range of alarming health statistics about men,” Professor Minichiello said. “For example, one of the papers reveals a contradiction we face here: while there is a health policy push towards promoting self-regulating and responsible health-seeking behaviour in men, the concept of ‘masculinity’ is likely to produce irresponsible health practices. A lot of men and boys feel under pressure to conform to a hyper-masculine body image.”

Dr Scott mentioned some specific examples from the research papers that highlight the complex issues facing men in contemporary society. “One of the papers shows how acts of violence such as suicide can be interpreted as expressions of power and aggression and as compensation for the humiliation caused through the perceived ’emasculation’ experienced by some young men,” he said. “Another study shows how young boys identify certain sports, physical activities and foods that are ‘more for boys’, and highlights the need for improving the health literacy of boys and men.”

The editors welcome the publication of the National Male Health Strategy: Building on the Strengths of Australian Males (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010). “Clearly, the research agenda for men’s health is on the move as new issues emerge and old problems are recast within the framework and policy settings that men’s health provides,” they conclude.

“The recently announced longitudinal study of men’s health to be funded by the Australian Government will certainly ensure that the issues are on the table for discussion for many years to come,” Professor Minichiello said. “We desperately need a policy that will make a difference for men’s health and improve men’s awareness of preventable diseases and injuries, support men to take charge of their own health, and influence health-care services to provide better information and intervention programs for men.”

The “Men’s Health” special issue is Volume 19:4 (pp 401-538) of Health Sociology Review.