Men’s Health Week is celebrated annually during the week before and including Father’s Day. First signed into US law in 1994 by then President Bill Clinton, Men’s Health Week has since been adopted by other countries around the world. The international support of Men’s Health Week has been so profound, it has since expanded to Men’s Health Month as of the late 1990s. In Canada, the first Canadian Men’s Health Week took place in 2014.
This period of awareness focuses on the prevention, early detection, and treatment of mental and physical health problems among males, both young and old. During this time of year, we are all given the opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury.
What does it mean to be healthy?
Being healthy is simply when you take care of your body and your feelings. This involves eating a variety of foods, getting the appropriate amount of sleep, being active doing the things you like to do, and spending time with family and friends.
How healthy are Canadian men?
According to a 2018 healthy behaviors study published in the Canadian Urological Association Journal, 41.5% of Canadian men had three out of five unhealthy behaviours, signifying a continued need for lifestyle interventions across Canada.1 The five key health behaviours measured in the study included dietary habits, sleep, exercise, smoking and drinking. Details of the study findings include:
62% of men had poor diets;
54% of men slept under 7 hours or over 9 hours daily;
59% of men failed to get 150 minutes of moderate-to-strenuous exercise weekly;
39% of men over consumed alcohol regularly;
20% of men smoked cigarettes.
The silver lining of this study is, there is always room for improvement. Small changes today can have long-lasting impacts for the rest of your life. Take the opportunity during this year’s Men’s Health Week to not only reflect and take action on improving your own health habits, but also to discuss with youth, family, and friends about what being healthy means to them.
What health topics should you discuss with youth?
Knowing the habits of youth is helpful in knowing what to talk about. The good news is, we know what helps youth feel healthier. Youth who sleep and eat well, exercise, spend less time online, and maintain emotional connection to family, school, community and peers report better health than those who do not have these experiences and support systems.2 Topics on how to make improvements in these areas are always good for discussion. Discussing smoking and alcohol use are also important topics as well. It is important to explain to youth that being healthy does not have to do with body size and health is not a number. Healthy people come in all shapes, sizes, skin colours and hair colours.
For men wanting to improve the health of youth, the best place to start is by modelling healthy behaviours. If the goal is for men of the future to make healthier choices themselves, start by showing them how you do it.
So, what is healthy eating?
Healthy eating means eating a wide variety of foods every day. Canada’s Food Guide provides an updated snapshot of how to make healthy food choices. The snapshot, along with recipes and tips, gives users ideas on how to eat more vegetables and fruits, tips on eating whole grains, easy examples of protein foods like nuts, beans, seeds, cheese and yogurt, plus preferred beverage choices such as water and low fat milk.
Healthy eating is more than the foods we eat. It also involves developing healthy eating habits such as eating meals with others, cooking more often, finding enjoyment in food, and practicing mindfulness when eating.
Another way to help build healthy habits in youth is by cooking and eating meals and snacks together more often. Research shows that as the frequency of family meals increases, teens have better social adjustment and smoke less.3
To learn more, visit Better Together.
What steps can you take to be more active?
Any activity or exercise that you enjoy doing, is perfect! This is true for both adult men and youth. Again, if we want youth to be more active, adult males need to set a good example of what that looks like. Being physically active is not just about playing sports. It can be lifting weights, going on a walk, or even playing in the yard with your family.
As we get older, the amount and intensity of physical activity our bodies need changes. Children four years and younger should be active for at least 180 minutes throughout the day. At around age five, children should add strengthening exercise. This is important because it helps to build strong muscles and bones. Exercises should target legs, arms, chest, shoulders, and back. Those 18 and older should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
Simply put, get your body moving! For a list of more exercises you can do, click here.
A word on weight bias and body image
Often tied to what people eat and their level of physical activity are feelings surrounding one’s body weight. Societal and peer pressure can lead to an expectation to look a certain way or have a specific body weight. If someone is not able to meet this expectation, it can result in negative feelings of one's own self worth, and ultimately can lead to poor mental health. Through research on the impacts of weight bias in youth, we have learned both males and females are at risk for social isolation, poor academic performance, eating disorders, chronic dieting and overeating, depression, anxiety, and body image concerns because of weight stigma from peers, coaches, parents, and teachers.4,5, 6,7,8,9
According to the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, weight bias has been observed in children as young as three years old. Large-bodied kids were viewed as mean, ugly, stupid, had fewer friends, less peer acceptance, seen as unattractive, lazy, unfriendly, dishonest, and less athletic. As youth get older, weight based teasing becomes more prevalent, upsetting, and frequent, thus transitioning into a form of bullying and harassment.
Looking to take action on this topic in your community? Connect with BC Dairy Association to learn more about our positive body image workshop. Take action here.
Summing it up
As we celebrate Men’s Health Week, it is important to know men’s health is more than just about males and their lifestyle choices. To quote one of the original champions of Men’s Health Week, Congressman Bill Richardson, “recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on parents, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.”10 You never know, the actions you take and the conversations you have during this year’s Men’s Health Week may end up being the most important moments of your life, for you and your family.
Resource from HealthLink BC for sleep, smoking, and alcohol:
If you or your family are looking for tips to sleep better, click here.
If you know someone who smokes or is having trouble quitting, refer to BCs Smoking Cessation Program for help.
For information on reducing your alcohol consumption, click here.
1. Flannigan, R., Oliffe, J., McCreary, D., Punjani, N., Kasabwala, K., Black, N., Rachert, J., & Goldenberg, L. (2018). Composite health behaviour classifier as the basis for targeted interventions and global comparisons in men’s health. Canadian Urological Association Journal, 13(4). https://doi.org/10.5489/cuaj.5454.
2. Smith, A., Forsyth, K., Poon, C., Peled, M., Saewyc, E., & McCreary Centre Society (2019). Balance and connection in BC: The health and well-being of our youth. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society.
3. White House Conference on Teenagers, 2000.
4. Lee, Kirsty S., and Tracy Vaillancourt. "Longitudinal associations among bullying by peers, disordered eating behavior, and symptoms of depression during adolescence." JAMA psychiatry 75.6 (2018): 605-612.
5. Hunger, Jeffrey M., and A. Janet Tomiyama. "Weight Labeling and Disordered Eating Among Adolescent Girls: Longitudinal Evidence From the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study." Journal of Adolescent Health 63.3 (2018): 360-362.
6. Puhl, Rebecca M., Jamie Lee Peterson, and Joerg Luedicke. "Weight-based victimization: bullying experiences of weight loss treatment-seeking youth." Pediatrics 131.1 (2013): e1-e9.
7. Browne, Nancy T. "Weight bias, stigmatization, and bullying of obese youth." Bariatric Nursing and Surgical Patient Care 7.3 (2012): 107-115.
8. Dev, Dipti A., et al. "Risk factors for overweight/obesity in preschool children: an ecological approach." Childhood obesity 9.5 (2013): 399-408.
9. World Health Organization. "Weight bias and obesity stigma: considerations for the WHO European Region." (2017).
10. Bill Richardson, US Congressional Record, H3905-H3906, May 24, 1994.