National institute for men's health proposed

A British Columbia doctor is trying to gather support for the idea of a national institute for men's health and will be advocating for one at a meeting this week of health and policy experts.
A national conference on men's health begins Tuesday that is bringing together health and policy experts from across the country, including one from British Columbia that is calling for a national institute for men's health. (Pat Sullivan/Associated Press)

Men's health is about more than penises and prostates, according to a British Columbia doctor that is calling for the creation of a national institute on men's health.

Dr. Larry Goldenberg, a surgeon and researcher who co-founded the Prostate Centre at Vancouver General Hospital, will be making his pitch for the institute to other attendees of a two-day meeting beginning Tuesday near Ottawa. The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have organized the national conference that is bringing together health care and health policy experts from across the country.

The Boys' and Men's Health Forum will also be hearing from experts from Ireland and Australia, the only two countries that currently have national men's health strategies.

"There's really no identity for men's health," Goldenberg, head of the department of urologic sciences at VGH and the University of British Columbia, said in an interview. "When most people think of men's health, they think of the penis and the prostate and we need to get beyond that and say, 'there's more to a man than a penis and a prostate.' Not everybody agrees, but for most men there's more than a penis and a prostate."

Goldenberg, who was awarded the Order of Canada in 2009, is behind the Men's Health Initiative of British Columbia, a program that was launched in 2009 to address the health challenges that men face and to raise awareness about them.

Men have shorter life expectancies than women – about 4.4 years less – and heart disease, suicide and motor vehicle accidents are known to be three of the biggest factors contributing to the gap. Men have a higher risk of dying from heart disease, liver disease and diabetes, 80 per cent of spinal cord injuries are in men, and 70 per cent of developmental and learning disabilities affect boys, according to the B.C. Men's Health Initiative.

Researchers like Goldenberg want to know more about the science of men's health, the issues that affect them at different life stages and why health issues are often not on the radar for a lot of men, particularly young ones who are more inclined to take their car for a check-up than themselves.

Movember campaign raising awareness

"I don't think we've paid much attention to the under 40s. Thankfully in the last decade there's been a lot more attention to the over 40s, issues around particularly prostate cancer, with Movember, but there are many other men's health issues," said Goldenberg.

The Movember campaign, the moustache-growing fundraiser for prostate cancer that is held during the month of November and seems to be growing more popular every year, has been extremely effective in drawing attention to a men's health issue, said Goldenberg.

"Movember is a brilliant marketing strategy," he said. The campaign has been able to reach young men and it's exactly the kind of technique that needs to be used for other health issues, he said.

His group in B.C. has been working on how to successfully communicate with young men and among their efforts are a series of comical videos posted online on a website called www.manupcanada.ca. They tell viewers that "real food doesn't come from a vending machine" and that a strong heart equals "a stronger sex life."

Goldenberg says Movember and the meeting this week are steps in the right direction but he wants to see much more attention paid to men's health.

He envisions a national body, separate from government, that would be entirely focused on men's health and could co-ordinate research activities, education campaigns and other initiatives. Goldenberg says there is a lot of good work going on in Canada on various men's health issues, but it's being done in silos.

"Just putting a male lens on public health issues is good, but to me it isn't quite what I think this country and what other countries need, and that's a form of a network or an institute that people can identify with," he said.

Goldenberg would like to see the federal government provide seed money for the national institute that he is trying to get off the ground and he will be trying to meet this week with MPs and political staff in Ottawa.

"My goal is to make people aware of this initiative and what we need to do and it will run in parallel to what comes out of this national summit," he said.

The meeting takes place Tuesday and Wednesday in Gatineau, Que., close to Parliament Hill on the other side of the Ottawa River.