Men still dying sooner than women

If you are a woman in Norfolk, you can expect to live four years longer than the average man. Meanwhile, a man in Norwich is 35pc more likely to die of cancer than a Norwich woman.

If you are a woman in Norfolk, you can expect to live four years longer than the average man.

Meanwhile, a man in Norwich is 35pc more likely to die of cancer than a Norwich woman. In the most deprived parts of Great Yarmouth, the average life expectancy is seven years longer for women than men.

These stark facts are a result of many factors - many of which are in men's hands. Men are notoriously reluctant to go to the doctor, more likely to smoke and to drink heavily. This year's Men's Health Week is highlighting the issue of exercise. Older men in particular exercise less than women: after the age of 35, men's activity levels fall much faster than women's.

The biggest killer of men is cardio-vascular disease, but men are also much more likely to take their own lives - especially young men and men past retirement age. And it doesn't end there.

Ian Banks, president of the Men's Health Forum, which runs Men's Health Week, says: “Every medical condition that is common to both sexes kills more men than women.”

Nationally, men are almost 40pc more likely than women to die from cancer and 16pc more likely to develop the disease in the first place. If you look only at cancers which both sexes get, the difference is even greater - with men being almost 70pc more likely to die from cancer and over 60pc more likely to develop the disease.

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Dr Banks says social inequalities such as poverty affect men's health far more than women, but it is also that unwillingness to go to the doctor. For example, in every European country more women get melanoma (skin cancer) than men, yet more men die from it. “The only reason we can think of is, when a mole turns cancerous, women go to the doctor about it whereas men put it off.”

This reluctance to go to the doctor can be even worse when it comes to so-called “embarrassing” problems like prostate trouble or erectile dysfunction.

Mark Rochester, specialist registrar in urology at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said there was a generational difference, with young men more likely to seek help and perhaps be more informed because of the internet, but older men are still reluctant. He said: “You see older men in particular who have put off going to their GPs because they are embarrassed about it. They want to carry on and not bother about it.”

He said breast cancer still gets far more coverage than cancers affecting men, but said that there had been a big rise in public awareness of prostate cancer, with men more aware of the tests available.

He added: “If they think it might be cancer, they usually go to see someone quite quickly, but when they are not worried about cancer, men try to brush it off.”

Jonathan Williams, assistant director of public health at NHS Norfolk, said: “It is evident that men don't use the doctor as often as women do. They tend to leave problems longer then women. Some of these problems can be serious, like heart disease or even cancer, so leaving it longer has implications for their recovery.”

But Dr Banks says we should not simply blame men. “It is not all about telling men to get off their backsides and pump iron. Services need to be more responsive to men's needs. As one man put it, pharmacies are more about lipstick than spanners.

“It's not all men's fault for being fat and lazy. It is just that we have never really got a grip on the way men's exercise levels drop off. We should give them a range of ways to take part in exercise. Even walking 30 minutes a day is enough to stave off the risk of heart disease and cancer and improve your mental health.”

Figures show that if men over 35 exercised as much as they did at 25, it would improve the death rate as much as all men giving up smoking. They still might not live as long as women, but it would be a good start.