There's a lot of it about at the moment. We are not talking viruses but televised dissections of the male condition. The BBC season on men's health had its moments - lots of premature death and a fair smattering of bravehearts who almost seemed to enjoy parading their penile inadequacies on the small screen - but it failed to tackle the problem of whether men actually want to be healthier.

Perhaps the most telling insight into the difficulties of educating the British male came in Jaci Stephen's stern-faced dig at "new ladism" for Channel 4's Without Walls, which seemed to suggest that most men under 35 care for nothing other than booze, football and self-abuse.

So if new lads seem to spend all day fondling their genitals, why don't they ever check for lumps? Well, can we really expect them to abandon the traditional Saturday afternoon shin-kicking and beer-swilling for a warm community centre, a slice of lentil bake and a group discussion on better foreskin hygiene? I think not.

Health only seems to matter to lads if it gets in the way of pulling, pissing and playing, but this observation is nothing new. As JP Donleavy wrote in 1955, "When you don't have any money, the problem is food. When you have money, it's sex. When you have both, it's health." Men have always put health fairly low on the batting order of priorities, which is part Y chromosome and part cultural expectation, but so what? Why not just leave lads alone to get on with their hedonism?

The answer, unfortunately, is that they may not enjoy it for too long. The death rates for men and women are now so different that an alien epidemiologist landing in Britain would think we were two different species. Infant mortality is 20 per cent higher in boys than girls, more men than women die in all age groups up to 65, men are less likely to be found in a GP's surgery and more likely to end up in a resuscitation room, die by suicide and become registered drug addicts. Statistics can lie, but you only have to look at the sex distribution at an Age Concern luncheon club to see that these are true.

In 1992, Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, deduced that "men must be brought up to be more aware of their bodies". He implored sisters, girlfriends, wives, health professionals, workplaces, sporting venues, pubs and male interest magazines to hammer home health messages. Have Viz and Loaded rallied to the cause? Does your pub have a testicular drop- in centre? Would you use it if it did?

I suspect the health ignorance of British men owes as much to being British as it does to being a man - one study found that only one in four Brits knows the correct anatomical location of their stomach - but women certainly seem to know more about their inner workings. Whether it is this, rather than their ovaries, that makes them live longer is debatable. If every man knew how to look after his prostate, would the incidence of prostate cancer plummet? I have my doubts.

A key problem is the tendency to view health as a conglomerate of bodily functions: look after your bits and you'll live a happy and fulfilled life. In fact, health has far more to do with what's going on in your head, whether you're living up to your aspirations and all those scary self-realisation things. People either work too hard, in which case they're too tired to consider their bodies until after the first heart attack, or have no work to do. And no work means no money, no heating and no examining the testicles once a month after a warm shower.

Of course all this applies to women, too, but men seem to have a thirst for risk as well. In a world surrounded by the safe tedium of air bags, life insurance and cholesterol tests, driving down the wrong side of the M69 with a head full of Ecstasy can seem like a refreshing change. This uncontrolled hedonism is obviously not compatible with longevity, but hands up who wants to see out their autumn years at an Age Concern luncheon club?

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