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How an electric car is making more men care about their health
Doctors Jamin Brahmbhatt and Sijo Parekattil, urologists at Orlando Health, say knowing family health history is a crucial part of prevention. - photo by Jennifer Graham
A Florida urologist says taking a yearly road trip across America in a trendy electric car made him a better doctor. But more importantly, he says, driving head-turning wheels is encouraging more men to take better care of their health.

Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt and a colleague from Orlando Health in Florida are on their fourth annual Drive for Mens Health. Their goal is to encourage men to talk more about health with their families, which is something men rarely do to their detriment and to that of their fathers and sons.

In a recent study commissioned by Orlando Health, 4 out of 5 men said they'd never discussed sexual health with a family member. And women are 90 percent more likely than men to have discussions with family members about health, even though conditions like cancer and mental illness tend to run in families.

"We need to change that," said Brahmbhatt, a married father of three, noting that American men live on average five fewer years than women, in part because they are less likely to see a doctor when something is wrong, and theyre more likely to be obese and to smoke and drink.

Those five years can be reclaimed, he said, if men take better care of themselves and talk to family members about their health.

Minding the gap

The difference in longevity rates between men and women occurs not just in the U.S., but around the world, leading some health specialists to bemoan what they consider gender inequality in health. The World Health Organization says in some countries, including Russia, Rwanda and Syria, women outlive men by a decade or more.

The organization attributes the difference to men's greater exposure to physical and chemical hazards, the greater likelihood that men engage in risky behavior and their unwillingness to see a doctor and to disclose all their symptoms when they do. Alcohol consumption also plays a role.

"In 2010, 3.14 million men as opposed to 1.72 million women died from causes linked to excessive alcohol use. For many men, excessive consumption of alcohol is linked to notions of masculinity," a WHO report on gender inequality in health said.

In the U.S., nearly 30 percent of men over the age of 18 report having five or more drinks in one day during the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The WHO also notes that in the U.S., men are more likely than women to have jobs with a greater risk of injury or death, such as agriculture, mining and fishing.

They are also more likely to die from acts of violence, such as gun injuries, and in car accidents.

But Dr. Sharonne N. Hayes, a cardiologist and founder of the Women's Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, disputes the idea that there is widespread inequality in health care according to gender.

"It's not like men are suffering from vast health inequities, but there are differences, and both men's and women's health would be improved if there was more attention both to age- and gender-specific preventive efforts, and making sure the science is there to support appropriate care for men and for women," she said.

In childhood, boys and girls see doctors at the same rate, Hayes said. The differences begin in late teens and early adulthood when young women see doctors for birth control, pregnancy and childbirth, and get into a habit of getting regular care, not only for their children but for themselves.

After their mothers stop taking them to the pediatrician, some young men never find a physician of their own until something goes wrong. "You talk to some men in their 20s to 40s, and they havent seen a doctor in a years," Hayes said.

Avoiding bad news and good

"Just like we dont like to get directions, we dont want to see the doctor. One, we perceive that as weakness, and two, we really dont want to hear bad news, said Dr. Pawan Grover, a surgeon in Houston who's had to push his father to see a physician.

In the U.S., men are sometimes teased for being overly sensitive about their health, which is why the man flu is the subject of memes. But in fact, going to the doctor, particularly after midlife, isnt exactly an afternoon at the ballpark, and people need encouragement to get check-ups.

"Even being a doctor, I don't like to see other doctors," Grover said.

"We hear on the news that after 50, we know theyre going to do a prostate exam, and possibly a colonoscopy, and they dont want these tests. They dont go to the doctor because they know what the doctors going to say," he said.

Men's unwillingness to see doctors often has consequences, however, not only because a check-up could reveal something serious, but also because it could uncover a condition that is easily treated, Grover said. As an example, he said one of his patients put off seeing a doctor for 10 years even though he was gaining weight, losing his hair and feeling tired because he thought his symptoms were simply signs of aging.

When his wife finally got him to the doctor, the man learned he had a thyroid condition that, if corrected with medication 10 years earlier, could have saved him 10 pounds and much of his hair.

"Men are not going to change; it's really up to the children, to the spouses, to push them, to physically make an appointment and drag them there, because you never know you could save their life," Grover said.

Message in a Tesla

Grover said men should have a handful of simple tests every year: blood pressure, blood sugar, thyroid and a basic metabolism screening. If they aren't able to have a check-up with a physician, these tests can be done at a walk-in clinic or even at a pharmacy.

Brahmbhatt, meanwhile, wants to get the word out that families need to talk with each other about health. Fathers and grandfathers, in particular, should talk with their children and grandchildren about any familial health issues they know about, whether it's prostate cancer, low testosterone or infertility, all which can run in families. Knowing that there's a heightened risk in their family can make people more likely to notice symptoms and to get them checked out, he said.

Brahmbhatt and Dr. Sijo Parekattil left Orlando June 3 and drove to New Orleans, Houston and Los Angeles before heading for Utah. While driving a Tesla is fun, Brahmbhatt said, its also useful: The car always attracts a crowd.

Then, Brahmbhatt said, Boom! We hit them with our message. And the message is improve your health, go see your doctor and engage your family in your health care.
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