It’s Movember, the season of unlikely moustaches, grown to highlight men’s health.
Causes of disease and death are not always clear, however, gender differences in lifestyle and disease offer some clues to lower male life expectancy.
Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office (FSO) puts male life expectancy at 81.5 years, 3.8 years behind women, who live 85.2 years on average.
It’s often said that men don’t look after themselves. Data on disease death rates and lifestyle support this idea.
Noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, diseases partly driven by lifestyle, are now the world’s biggest killers, according to the World Health Organisation.
So what’s behind Switzerland’s gender life expectancy difference?
Firstly, far more men in Switzerland smoke. A report puts the percentage at 32%, compared to 24% of women.
Another report published last week, shows male death rates from cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, larynx and lung, all cancers associated with smoking, are more than double those for women: 72 per 100,000 versus 35 per 100,000. These cancers come late. Less than 0.2% occur in men under 40, something that can make some young people view smoking as harmless.
Secondly, in Switzerland, far more men are heavy drinkers. 17% drink everyday compared to only 9% of women. And, the male liver cancer death rate is more than double that of women: 12 per 100,000 versus 5 per 100,000.
Thirdly, there are clear differences in eating habits. 26% of women eat 5 or more portions of fruit and veg a day compared to only 12% of men. 14% of men eat fewer than 5 portions per week. Only 6% of women eat this few.
Poor diet can lead to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 6% of men in Switzerland have diabetes compared to 4% of women. These figures match obesity rates. In 2012, 51% of men in Switzerland were obese or overweight compared to only 32% of women. Another study puts the figures at 57% for men and 16% for women, an even greater contrast.
Cholesterol is another indicator of poor diet and a contributor to heart disease. 12.1% of men have an unhealthy level compared to 9.7% of women.
Finally, despite suffering from lower rates of depression, men are far more likely to take their own lives. In 2014, 754 men took their lives compared to 274 women1.
On a more positive note, one area where men do better is exercise. 76% of men get enough, compared to 69% of women.
Someone well aware of the health benefits of exercise is Nyon-based Scott Poynton, founder of The Forest Trust.
Normally Scott is saving forests, however every November, as part of Movember, he organises walks through them, up to the top of the Dole, the highest peak in Switzerland’s Jura mountain range. The walks aim to raise awareness of men’s health issues.
Movember, a men’s health charity started by two mustache-loving Aussie men over a beer in Melbourne in 2003, made its first hairy appearance in Switzerland in 2012.
Along with Finn, Scott’s trusty Jack Russell, Scott makes the upward (and downward) journey 5 times. He encourages others to join and says: “I’ve always found that walking in Nature is great for the mind, body and soul”.
As well as healthy exercise, you’re likely to gain health insights. You might even learn a bit about Scott’s plant-based diet, something he started to reduce his carbon footprint. He’s convinced it’s made him a lot healthier too.
And, if you join Scott and wonder why Finn doesn’t come when you call him, it’s because he’s deaf, something Scott discovered when he was a pup. It doesn’t slow him down though!