US offers health and sex for stressed-out men

Magazine launch will test whether British are ready to get in shape
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The Independent Online
American publishing executive Chuck McCullagh, over here to launch a British version of the glossy Men's Health magazine, tucked away a very un-British breakfast of raspberries, strawberries, yoghurt and muesli before explaining that the average E nglishman was a good deal more reticent about personal fitness than his equivalent in the United States.

"The pyschology is different. I think American men in our target age group [25 to 44] try things more easily than the British male. The American male does not find health and fitness an embarrassment," he said.

"Yet the Briitsh male is as stressed-out as any male anywhere. It's tough here for men. In some respects Brtiain has taken on an American management model, but the difference is that the British male hasn't changed his behaviour. He doesn't do anything to counter the stress".

Six years ago the Rodale Press Inc, a family-owned publishing company from Pennsylvannia best known for a 50-year-old woman's title Prevention, launched Men's Health magazine and found it had a winner on its hands.

The magazine quickly built a circulation of 1.3 million among health-conscious baby-boomers, speaking to gym-loving men about physical and emotional issues. One basic message is that the healthy, diet-conscious male has the best job, best sex life and best leisure.

The US version sold 10,000 copies through newsagents in Britain, so the company decided to try this market for its first expansion. However, after talking to focus groups it has completely revamped the product for Britons more interested in armchair sport than exercise.

Nick Williams, United Kingdom publisher, pointed to the cover of the first edition, which went on sale yesterday. The quasi-humourous photo of an average, fully clothed man looking upwards as a fly lands on his forehead flags the competition to "Fly a MiG 29".

The cover lines are "Get rid of your gut", "Sex at Work" and "Sex at Play". Inside is self-improvement: month-by-month work-out plans, preparation for the ski slopes and a complete guide to scuba diving.

There is also a conventional section telling men how to take control of their diets: "You are what your wife eats. Men planning to revamp their diets have a better chance of success if they first get the women in their lives to start eating better."

Perhaps most interesting is the feature devoted to a complete make-over, inviting men to invest in a capsule wardrobe in the best tradition of women's magazines: everything from fitted trunk-style underpants to picking socks that fit - "so that you nevershow a bare leg". Hints include: "Buy the best understated gold watch you can afford" and "We should all have our hair trimmed every four to six weeks".

So are British men ready for it? Mr McCullagh is hoping for sales of 60,000 for the bimonthly £1.95 magazine.

Rosie Boycott, editor of Esquire magazine, which together with GQ has pioneered general-interest magazines, said: "You will find a percentage of men who go to the gym, but you have got to be pretty dedicated to health and fitness to find this essential reading.

"But it is smart to launch it now. In five years' time, there may well be a bigger audience," she added.