Improving gender equality across Europe could help men in the region to live longer, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The report, launched in Rome this week, says the higher risk of premature mortality for men compared to women has been known for so long that it is “almost considered a natural phenomenon.”
“It is not, and should not be regarded as such,” it warns.
But why are men in Europe dying young, how does men’s health differ across the region, and what difference could gender equality really make?
What is affecting men’s health?
Men in Europe are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, but many are still dying at young ages from preventable causes, the report says.
It notes that noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, and diabetes, account for the vast majority of deaths of men aged 30-59 in Europe.
In 2015 alone, they accounted for some four million deaths in the WHO European Region.
Injuries are listed as the second leading cause of premature mortality and disability, while mental ill health and infectious diseases are among other major causes.
East vs West
The data show vast differences in men’s health across the region, with those living in eastern Europe generally far more at risk than those in the west.
Across the region, the average male life expectancy varies by 17 years — from 64 to 81 years old — with western European and Nordic countries coming out on top, and countries including Russia, Ukraine and Moldova among the worst.
In the east of the region, some 37% of deaths caused by noncommunicable diseases occur before the age of 60, compared to just 13% in the west.
Men’s risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular diseases is also seven times greater in the east, the report said.
Countries in the east of the region also accounted for a large proportion of deaths caused by injury.
‘Gender equality helps men’s health’
As well as factors such as wealth, education, employment, and living arrangements, the WHO found that traditional notions of masculinity have a big impact on men’s health.
“Gender norms — masculinity, femininity — play a very important role in health. And it is the responsibility of the health system to address it,” Isabel Yordi Aguirre, head of the gender and health team at WHO Europe, told Euronews.
“Gender norms and societal expectations” influence men’s higher rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and injuries from violence, while they are also often less likely to consult general practitioners than women, the report says.
WHO Europe argues that gender equality has a key role to play in improving men’s health.
“Living in a country with gender equality benefits men’s health and shows up as lower mortality rates, higher well-being, half the risk of being depressed, higher likelihood to have protected sex, lower suicide rates and a 40% reduced risk of a violent death."
The report calls for measures to be introduced to tackle gender imbalances, such as fostering men’s involvement in reproductive health, boosting participation in care roles and preventing violence against women.
It also says there should be a greater understanding of men’s health needs and more accessible services.
“Men have a big role to play in achieving gender equality, and gender equality is beneficial for men’s health,” Aguirre said.