American magazines target Britain's new men: Roger Tredre reports on an influx of health and fitness titles from across the Atlantic

BRITISH men are losing their inhibitions. That is the view of US magazine publishers who judge that the time is right to introduce a new wave of men's health magazines.

The titles, including Men's Health, Men's Fitness and Men's Journal, aim to meet the physical and psychological needs of the British male, once considered too hung-up to consider them.

But now the Americans, impressed by the success of British GQ, launched in 1989, and other style magazines such as Esquire and Arena, believe that the stiff upper-lip, the British man's favoured accessory for so long, could be on the way out.

The new titles are US imports complete with American advertisements, rather than being written for the UK market. But British editions may follow if sales are strong (Men's Health has recently published a German edition).

Men's Health, every hypochondriac man's dream, is on sale in British newsagents this month, with lengthy articles on how to keep down your blood pressure (exhorting men to 'shed that potbelly' and 'bone up on calcium') and scalpel-free surgery ('avoid the incision and save time off work'). Next month's issue includes pieces on supercharging your immune system, building a strong chest, safeguarding your potency and eating healthy TV snacks.

This editorial mix has certainly struck a chord with American men. Men's Health is one of the fastest growing titles in US magazine publishing, with sales of 575,000. Michael Lafavore, executive editor, said: 'Niche titles like ours have a much rosier future than general magazines. Men don't have time to read them any more.'

The launch of the title in the UK builds on an encouraging reception for Men's Fitness, a Californian magazine which already sells several thousand copies in Britain. The headlines sum up the contents: 'Badminton Kicks Butt', 'Contact Lenses Revisited', and 'Kickin' Caffeine'.

Peter Sikowitz, editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness, thinks British men are not so different from Americans. 'Whether it's New York or London, men have the same problems, stress-wise, nutrition-wise and pressure-wise.'

He added that even if the British were behind, they were catching up fast. 'Last time I was over in London, you had a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables in the stores.'

The publishers of Rolling Stone are also helping British men to get in touch with themselves. Men's Journal, launched in the US in May, goes on sale in the UK at the end of this month. It keeps psychological analysis to a minimum, plugging away at a more traditional theme: the American male's love for the great outdoors.

Jann Wenner, publisher, said: 'In answer to the litmus-test question 'What do men really want?' we think they want to climb a few mountains, build the house of their dreams, have a first serve, and perhaps play a few memorable rounds of golf with their fathers.'

Whether the British magazine world will follow the lead of the Americans remains to be seen. All four of the British men's style magazines already devote hefty sections to fitness and health.

Jamie Bill, publisher of British Esquire, said: 'I am not convinced that British men are ready for magazines entirely devoted to health and fitness. They still tend to be suspicious of those who are over-obsessed with physical fitness.'