When it comes to health, women have an advantage. A favourable life expectancy at birth is generally bolstered by greater resourcefulness and curiosity when it comes to health-seeking behaviour.
Research shows that women are more engaged, more involved, more attentive and better-informed health decision-makers, while men are less likely to engage in health-related issues or absorb informal health information.
It appears little has changed since a wide-ranging survey 45 years ago concluded that responsibility for knowing about health seems to be part of the woman’s role in the family.
While men’s accountability for their own health increases with age, there is a need to improve men’s engagement in preventive health across all ages.
But are gender-targeted public health campaigns the best way forward? Given the importance of women in healthcare decision-making, can we afford to target men alone?
The most successful men’s health campaigns succeed because while they are directed at men, they also pique the interest of women. Movember has evolved into a global phenomenon across multiple markets, raising more than £300m and funding several hundred men’s health programmes.
It has even succeeded in markets such as Latvia, where more stereotypical ‘macho man’ social norms prevail and there is an urgent need to engage men in health screening. Although targeted at men, the campaign has been embraced by women who have participated by encouraging men to sign up to the campaign, raising funds and promoting awareness. It has even spawned some official female support groups such as Pro-Mo and Mo Sistas.
#Feelingnuts is a simple call to action educating men and the women in their lives to check for testicular cancer via a social campaign in which participants take a selfie "feeling their nuts" and then nominate a friend to do the same. In just a couple of years, the campaign has reached more than 700 million people, eliciting social support from both sexes.
More ambitious campaigns are now targeting men to help with female health education. A beautiful example of this is the Husband Initiated Movement Against Breast Cancer in India.
The Philips-initiated campaign targets husbands to encourage wives to take ten minutes for themselves to do a breast self-examination.
The campaign hit the issue at its core: married women pay little attention to their own health needs, focusing instead on keeping their family well fed and healthy. Asking husbands to free-up their wives for ten minutes by taking on one of her chores could be a crucial beginning to raising awareness.
Clearly, there is merit in both broad and gender-specific targeted public health campaigns, but with 80 per cent of healthcare decisions being made by women, the opportunity to harness women’s inquisitiveness to improve men’s engagement in health prevention should not be overlooked.
Antonia Betts is managing director of Ogilvy Health PR London