It's Men's Health Month again. Well-intentioned news stories, blog posts and tweets are all over our televisions, computer screens and phones, urging men to "start paying attention to their health."
As I scanned media headlines during the first few weeks of June, I noted all of the familiar sound bites.
"Men are stubborn about their health."
"Men don't go to the doctor until it's too late."
"Men get sicker and die quicker."
These tidbits give a very bleak picture of the state of men's health in America and the prospect of changing those behaviors that are - literally - killing them.
But that's not the whole story.
Over the years, the National Minority Male Health Project has learned a great deal about engaging men in health-related activities. As we have discovered, men are quite interested in gaining information about health, in general, and their own health, in particular. The difference is that men (especially young men) tend to be more reluctant than women to seek such information in "traditional locations." As such, locating screening and or health education events in familiar surroundings has proven to be quite successful.
The National Minority Male Health Project is a consortium of six colleges and universities that include Morehouse College , Morgan State University , Lincoln University, Wilberforce University , Bowie State University and the University of Texas - Pan American . The consortium works with community and faith-based groups in their respective communities to address a variety of health disparities experienced by minority males.
One particular focus of the consortium is on the prevalence of obesity in minority communities. To this end, at Morehouse College, we have partnered with local farmers and vendors to come together on campus to provide the faculty, staff and particularly students with fresh produce and fruits that are otherwise difficult to obtain in the surrounding neighborhoods. Part of the strategy is to get folks more aware of the nutritional needs, but also to get them access to fresh produce and fruit so they can take it home and prepare it, and change their attitudes and behaviors about what they are eating.
Beyond this effort, all consortium members have implemented an obesity program that is offered in a variety of settings. Such settings include summer programs held on campuses, after-school programs for middle-school students and in local high schools as part of health classes. Like the farmers markets, this program is designed to inform individuals of the consequences of their dietary and exercise habits and to ultimately change their attitudes and behaviors about food and exercise.
Finally, consortium members work within their communities to address issues such as cardiovascular disease, accidental injuries and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The lesson we've learned about encouraging positive behavior change is to meet men where they are. To us, health is as much a community issue as an individual issue. Our motto, "Healthy Bodies, Healthy Families, Healthy Communities," exemplifies this approach. To be successful in reducing health disparities, we must address the problems through collective action.
The National Minority Male Health Project is a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborative dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles among minority males through a comprehensive program of research, education and service. It is funded through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health and Morehouse College as the administrative coordinating body.
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Travis Patton is Director of the National Minority Male Health Project, Morehouse Research Institute at Morehouse College. Previously, Mr. Patton directed a project providing technical assistance and training to community-based organizations providing reproductive health services to men, served on the sociology faculty at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and spent three years as a program evaluator at Father Flanagan's Boys Home in Boys Town, NE. Mr. Patton currently serves as an adjunct professor of sociology at Morehouse College.