Strong, silent, sick?

"Real men" don't see doctors, study of teens suggests.

Published April 11, 2007 10:03AM (EDT)

Why do women have a longer life expectancy than men? Because they lie about their age, ha ha. Seriously: The going wisdom is that it is, in part, because some men -- those who have, knowingly or not, absorbed the macho misconception that being sick means being weak -- therefore don't go to the doctor and therefore don't get preventive care. Now, according to a new study published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, it turns out that Toomachofordoctoritis may strike even younger than anyone had realized. "The research, which followed more than 1,600 U.S. males ages 15 to 19, found that those who held to traditional views of what constitutes a 'real man' were less likely to have had a routine doctor visit in the past year," reports Reuters Health/Scientific "The findings suggest that these boys think that seeing a doctor is a sign of weakness."

Experts recommend that all teens see doctors for preventive care, including vaccinations and screenings for STDs. (STDs: That's one place where reluctance to see the doc could have real repercussions on teens' partners.) Typically, though, boys stop going around age 15. This study, Reuters notes, is the first to offer the Marlboro Man diagnosis to help explain why. (This is not to negate or override evidence of other barriers to healthcare, not the least of which are economic.)

"Fathers' involvement in those discussions appeared particularly important; boys who spoke only with their mothers were not more likely to see a doctor for a check-up," the article added. The study's lead author suggested that more dads should talk to their sons about health and health care, to help them see that such things are (Reuters paraphrase) "a normal part of being a man."

It's a reminder, Broadsheet's tipster notes, that gender stereotypes are really pretty unhealthy for everyone.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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