So macho, but so many men fit for nothing

Overweight, with loss of libido, failing eyesight and suffering from stress, the British male prefers to suffer than visit a doctor
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You feel ill. You don't recognise the symptoms. You are in pain. What do you do?

The rational response would be to see the doctor. But according to the first national survey into men's attitudes to health, if you are male you will stock up at the chemist, frighten yourself by reading medical books or gulp down dozens of vitamin pills - anything rather than visit your GP.

Fear of needles, the need to appear macho and failing to demand good health care in the way women have has meant that men's health is suffering. While three-quarters of men worry about their health, the majority feel they cannot talk to their family doctor. Six out of ten are either not registered with a GP, have never visited their GP or do not know their doctor's name.

But the British male is in a poor state of health. Aware that beer bellies are not supremely attractive, the majority of men have tried to diet. Their greatest fears include weight increase, receding hairlines, loss of libido and failing eyesight and 13 per cent have resigned themselves to having cosmetic surgery in the future.

While men may think about sex every 10 minutes, on average, they have sex one-and-a-half times a week. Six out of ten said they were dissatisfied with their sex life and a quarter had had some form of sexual problem.

Men live on average six years less than women and are 50 per cent more likely to die before the age of 65. Deaths from coronary heart disease are twice those of women and 75 per cent of suicide victims are men.

However, many common male health problems such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, infertility and cancer of the colon, could be dealt with if detected and treated early. Testicular cancer - one of the most common cancers in men aged 15 to 34 - is 95 per cent curable when detected early.

But men continue to neglect their health with the main reason being plain fear, according to a survey of 5,000 men carried out by Men's Health magazine. One-third of all men admitted they were nervous of medical procedures. The rest claimed that doctors "lack compassion" and tried to self-diagnose with the help of medical books rather than visit a surgery.

Most men thought they were reasonably healthy and were able to identify unhealthy high-fat and sugar foods. This was not translated into real life, with salad and fruit coming bottom of the list of favourite foods.

Stress was blamed for taking its toll on men's health with worries about work, money and relationships common. Seven out of ten men said they suffered from stress.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, puts this down to men's insecurity about their role in the world. "Women seem to know where they are going, they have a sense of clarity about what their goals are which men don't," he said. "Men are also more vulnerable because they are not as flexible in the workplace. Women have a history of working part time or on short term contracts which is what employers want. Men feel their role is being displaced by women."

One in three men in Britain admitted to have taken time off work to escape stress an average of five days a year. Given the choice, however, three- quarters of men said they would rather go out to work than stay and look after the house.

The ones who were most content with their lives were married or in a long-term relationship. Nearly two-thirds living with someone found it less stressful than living alone. "Men are much worse at coping with stress," said Professor Cooper. "They don't have the same social support systems. They would rather go out drinking than talk about their problems. They see stress as a sign of weakness and will not admit they are under pressure."

The Health Education Authority is launching a series of initiatives this summer at football clubs and in the armed forces to try and get men to take their health seriously. And as part of Men's Health Week a temporary information helpline was launched yesterday by PPP Healthcare on 0800 335555.

Insights on the male dilemma

t Seven out of ten men feel under stress

t Only 13 per cent of men think they are very healthy

t Sixty-five per cent say they visit the chemists rather than their GP when they feel ill

t Four per cent of men think they are very attractive

t Six out of ten men are not satisfied with their sex life and a quarter say they have had a sexual problem

Four fitness tips for the modern man

1. Get married. Nearly two thirds of men in a relationship found it less stressful than living alone. Interestingly, however, the reverse is true for women.

2. Indulge in aerobic exercise. This need not involve gyms; it can simply mean cleaning the bathroom vigorously. Or many other things; the junior health minister Baroness Cumberlege likes chasing bullocks around a field.

3. Eat spicy foods to speed up your metabolism. If desperate, turn to sushi at lunchtime rather than sandwiches.

4. Have children. They may be exhausting, but they keep you moving.

Four things best avoided

1. Passive football. Sitting on the sofa with cans of beer watching Euro '96 may be fun. But it is bad for the waistline, digestion and temper.

2. Kebabs, particularly eaten on the move. 23 per cent of men have suffered serious indigestion in the last six months.

3. Work-related boozing: drinking with office chums after work every night cannot always be put down to ``making contacts''.

4. Being a traditional Scot: they are among the least fit Britons. Nor is this wholly down to whisky and cigarettes: the deep fried Mars bar was invented at Stonehaven near Aberdeen.