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The Men's Health Gap


By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

According to the Testicular Cancer Society, every year over 9,000 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer, and while it accounts for a small 1% of all male cancers it is the most common form of cancer in men ages 15-35.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men (after skin cancer), with more than 3 million cases in the United States each year, predominantly affecting those after the age of 40.

And globally, every minute, a man commits suicide with 75% of suicide victims in the United States being men.

These are incredibly sobering statistics for men across the nation and are often men’s health issues that don’t see very much mainstream attention. While breast cancer awareness has skyrocketed with global philanthropic events and even major league sports advocating on their behalf, men’s health awareness has only recently made the attempt to catch up.  

But in Eugene, Oregon every fall that is not the case. Every November, the men of Gamma Zeta (Oregon) pull together a kickball tournament for the Fraternity and Sorority community at the University of Oregon. Raising funds through participation and individual members soliciting donations, the chapter raised approximately $19,000 in 2018 for the Movember Foundation, a nonprofit committed to improving awareness and research funding for these important health issues. Their 2018 totals put them among the top fundraising fraternity chapters in the nation for the Movember Foundation.

“Our partnership with Movember Foundation started several years ago when the chapter was refounded,” said Kohl Nicoll, the chapter’s Philanthropy and Community Service Chairman. “The refounding brothers took to it because it was specific to men’s health and helped break down some of the stereotypes of issues that are important to us as college men.”

“Every year we get to work with multiple Sigma Nu chapters, and Gamma Zeta has set a high bar for Movember campaigns among all fraternities nationwide,” said Movember's Manager of Community Development Robert Huffman. “They’re a great example for other chapters around the country who are looking to host a fun, impact driven philanthropy for men’s health.”

Gamma Zeta’s refounding brothers were spot on in fact, in terms of the effects on college men. Just 30 years ago, 90% of men with testicular cancer died from the disease, while today that number has flipped with 90% of cases going into remission. But that all requires as early detection and diagnosis as possible. In fact, many healthcare professionals suggest that young men examine themselves monthly to increase the likelihood of early detection.

But while routine mammograms and self-exams among women for breast cancer are often common knowledge, self-exams among men for testicular cancer are not. This presents a hurdle as self-exams are critical to early detection.

The Movember Foundation provides ample resources to combat this issue, including uniquely designed shower clings that visually instruct how to perform a self-exam in perhaps the most appropriate environment. In fact, they conducted a nationwide survey that found over two thirds of 18-34 year-old men in the US don’t know how to perform a testicular self-examination.

While it may seem like Gamma Zeta’s kickball tournament doesn’t tackle this head-on, their community outreach with their event does.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve partnered with the campus health center that also works with Movember Foundation,” says Nicoll. “The University hosts an annual men’s health panel with male staff members and breakout discussions.”

This past year, Movember Foundation also sent a representative directly to the chapter house to have a conversation about exactly what they were advocating for and broke down exactly where the money raised went, and what it wasn’t going to be used for. The latter piece of information comes at a welcome time when many nonprofits advocating for specific issues find themselves in hot water over allegations of mismanagement of funds and executives taking in hefty salaries and expansive expense budgets.

“That’s important to get people to move behind a cause,” shares Nicoll. “They can be somewhat experts on the cause they’re advocating for and describing where the money is going. It helps them in their discussions with their own network when looking for donations. Being able to say, ‘Hey this is why this is important to me and this is how I think, with your help, we can move the needle’ is a lot more efficient than just asking for some money.”

For their part, Movember Foundation has a transparent plan of attack in addressing these issues. It’s a nine-step approach but includes key aspects not seen often enough such as lobbying governments to provide affordable treatment and get new treatments into practice quickly, helping men make informed decisions when diagnosed, working with global initiatives in testicular and prostate cancer research.

One of those global initiatives is their Global Action Plan, an international research initiative that has supported 350 researchers from 90 institutions across 20 countries since its launch in 2011. And their work has seen tangible results as well. In the United Kingdom they funded over $1,000,000 towards the largest comprehensive sequencing study of testicular tumors published to date. This will allow more accurate genetic testing to better identify men who are at a high risk of developing testicular cancer and may also lead to more targeted treatments through understanding how the disease develops.

On the issue of suicide prevention, over $11,000,000 to date has been funded to the “Making Connections” initiative to focus on specific communities across the U.S to improve mental health and wellbeing, with particular emphasis on improving outcomes within high-need populations, including boys and men of color, military members, veterans, and their families. This effort is in partnership with the Prevention Institute, a leading nonprofit focused on health, safety, and wellbeing.

All of this culminates in an overarching idea that is gaining traction across the nation, and that is that men are increasingly becoming an at-risk population for a variety of issues that are not being addressed. Men die an average six years younger than women, and for largely preventable reasons.

In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute Andrew L. Yarrow made the case that “millions of American men are disconnected from work, children and family; are in poor physical and mental health; suffer from addiction and isolation; and struggle with what it means to be a man.”

Men are abandoning the workforce (or vice versa) at an alarming rate, they are being incarcerated at an alarming rate, and young men are seeing increased poverty rates with a decline in their college graduation rate and classroom performance.

Most of the recent hot topics in the political sphere of the last several years has been issues that predominantly affect men. Opioid addiction is considered a national health emergency with men doubling women in overdose deaths in 2017. In 2018, the U.S. government announced that the average life expectancy for the entire country had dropped, but the concerning data point was that it had not changed for women, only men.

But that is where fraternities can play a role in turning the tides. While many organizations that foster male community, such as local civic groups, are seeing membership numbers decline, and with them losing an opportunity to help improve male mental health, fraternities have seen growth in recent years.

Events as simple as a kickball tournament can help support Helping Hand partners like the Movember Foundation in addressing these issues as well. But it takes planning and team work to execute effectively.

Nicoll’s advice for other Philanthropy and Community Service Chairmen is worth noting.

“We normally plan this event several months ahead of time. I presented my plan to our Executive Board and shared the vision for the outcome to get their buy-in so they knew what was coming and were behind it. It also helps to find a cause that motivates your members and that they can get behind. If they’re excited about the cause, they’ll work towards it.”

Fraternities alone will not be the ultimate solution to the myriad of modern issues affecting men in the United States and across the world, but by providing a community for men to share their issues with those they trust and know care about them steps can be taken to reverse the current negative trajectory.

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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