AAFP Survey Finds Men Feel Healthier but Work Remains

August 03, 2016 09:00 am News Staff
[Athletic man running in winter morning]

In 2016, men's health has improved in many aspects but not across the board.

According to a survey recently commissioned by the AAFP and conducted by Harris Poll, nearly half of men (49 percent) rate their health as excellent or very good -- up from 42 percent in 2007.

However, more men have been diagnosed with a chronic condition since 2007 (48 percent versus 42 percent), and many still spend a considerable amount of time in front of a screen (about 20 hours a week working at a computer and 19 hours a week watching television).

"The survey results are a mixed bag. We have some good and some bad," said AAFP President Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., of York, Pa., in a news release. "Essentially, the survey shows that not feeling sick is not necessarily the same as being healthy."

For this poll, the Academy surveyed 916 men in the United States about their health status and behaviors, comparing the results with those from the same survey conducted in 2007 among 1,157 men.

Story highlights
  • According to a survey recently commissioned by the AAFP and conducted by Harris Poll, nearly half of men (49 percent) rate their health as excellent or very good -- up from 42 percent in 2007.
  • However, more men have been diagnosed with a chronic condition since 2007 (48 percent versus 42 percent), and many still spend a considerable amount of time in front of a screen (about 20 hours a week working at a computer and 19 hours a week watching television).
  • For this poll, the Academy surveyed 916 men in the United States about their health status and behaviors, comparing the results with those from the same survey conducted in 2007 among 1,157 men.

The online surveys were conducted among men 18 and older from April 30 to May 2 in 2007 and from April 15 to April 19 this year using the Harris Poll's Quick Query product. Because the surveys were not based on probability samples, no estimate of theoretical sampling error could be calculated.

Overall Health

Although half of the men surveyed in 2016 described their health status as excellent or very good, the percentage of men diagnosed with at least one listed chronic condition (hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease) was higher than in the previous survey.

This could be attributed to the fact that the incidence of chronic conditions increases with age, said Filer, "but it's also possible that more men report having a chronic condition because they went to the doctor and learned about a previously unknown health issue. That, in turn, may have spurred them to start exercising more regularly."

The survey actually noted a considerable increase in men exercising, with more than half (52 percent) of 2016 survey participants saying they worked out regularly compared with only 38 percent of 2007 survey participants who said they exercised regularly.

Physician-Patient Communication

Four out of five men surveyed for 2016 said they don't find it difficult to talk with their physician, with their level of ease increasing with age.

At their most recent visit with a physician, about half (46 percent) of U.S. men were counseled about something, primarily diet or weight (32 percent) or exercise (27 percent), which is consistent with the previous survey.

About 40 percent of men said they follow their physician's advice 100 percent of the time, which is an increase from 2007 (34 percent). Most respondents said they follow their physician's advice 50 percent to 75 percent of the time.

Action Taken When Sick

It's good news that 70 percent of men surveyed this year said they have one place they go when they are sick or want health advice, and almost 80 percent have a regular physician or health care professional they see -- up from 74 percent in 2007.

"A family physician in a medical home provides preventive care to detect and treat problems before they become serious," Filer said. "That's one of the keystones to maintaining good health. If more men develop ongoing relationships with their family physician, their perception of good health is more likely to become reality."

However, according to the survey, the majority of American men don't seek care right away when they have concerns about their health, are sick or are in pain. Most men said they wait a few days (40 percent) or even a week (19 percent) first to see if they feel better, with 30 percent saying they wait as long as possible to seek treatment.

When they are sick, 87 percent of men said they seek treatment, with 58 percent going to a physician's office -- but that's less than the 63 percent who said they did so in 2007.

Age also was a factor in where men choose to seek treatment. Baby boomers ages 55-64 (75 percent) and men ages 65 and older (85 percent) are more likely than men ages 18-34 (67 percent), 35-44 (62 percent) and 45-54 (59 percent) to rely on one place for treatment -- usually a traditional physician's office. Men ages 18-44 (38 percent) are more likely than their older counterparts to either not seek care or to do so at a private clinic (12 percent) or ER (6 percent).

Seeking Preventive Care

The vast majority of men surveyed in 2016 had at some point completed a physical exam (93 percent) and a blood cholesterol test (81 percent). But only about half had done so in the past year.

Men were more likely to have had a recent physical exam in 2016 (52 percent) than in 2007 (45 percent), and older men were more likely to have had medical tests such as cholesterol (85 percent), prostate (66 percent) and colon cancer screens (30 percent), as well as to have had a complete physical exam (73 percent).

Men who reported having a spouse or significant other (80 percent) said their partner had at least some influence over their decision to go see a physician.

In both 2016 and 2007, almost 60 percent of men said barriers prevented them from going to the physician, but lack of insurance was not a key barrier for men in 2016 (5 percent, down from 11 percent in 2007).

The two most common barriers were men feeling they needed to be extremely sick to seek health care (31 percent, down from 36 percent in 2007) and feeling they had no reason to go to a physician because they were healthy (21 percent, down from 23 percent in 2007).

Men appear to have increased their physical activity levels somewhat, with those surveyed working out six hours a week, on average, in 2016 compared with five hours in 2007. Their level of participation in sports, however -- two hours a week -- was unchanged from 2007.

"Men have begun paying more attention to their health and acting to maintain good health," Filer said of the results. "They are getting physical exams, increasing their exercise activity and getting their health care from their regular doctor. All of these are good.

"Research consistently shows that preventive care helps avoid serious illness, exercise is the best way to maintain healthy hearts and weight, and having a regular doctor prevents fragmented or duplicated care."

Filer recommended family physicians direct patients to FamilyDoctor.org and its men's health resources,(familydoctor.org) which include information on nutrition, exercise and maintaining good health.

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