Men’s Health in North Dakota
Today in the United States, the life expectancy at birth for men is nearly 5.5 years less than the life expectancy for women (75.1 years vs. 80.5 years). In North Dakota, the disparity in life expectancy between men and women is even greater.
At birth, men in North Dakota are predicted to live an average of 77.2 years, while women are predicted to live an average of 85.0 years, generating a 7.8-year difference. This disparity is believed to be partly because men prioritize their health less than most women. Nationwide, men are more likely than women to engage in unhealthy and unsafe behavior such as excessive drinking, smoking, and driving under the influence, and yet less likely to visit a health care provider or adopt preventive health measures such as wearing sun protection or eating a healthy diet.
Data points such as these inspired the Men’s Health Program creation at the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services in October 2021. The mission of the program is to improve health and well-being in men and boys by increasing access to education, health care and behavioral health services, and support statewide.
Areas of focus include integrating men’s and women’s health programs, promoting fatherhood engagement, and building relationships with various men’s health stakeholders.
The program’s first year was marked by creating connections at the state, local, and even national levels. We identified programs and individuals with an interest in men’s health while assessing the existing network of resources. We partnered with the North Dakota Family Planning Program to create a flyer targeted to men to highlight the extensive list of primary care services offered at the clinics regardless of insurance status. We worked with several Title V Maternal and Child Health Grant grantees to encourage the integration of men’s health education and priorities into their existing women’s health education events.
Additionally, we hosted a webinar during Men’s Health Month titled Male Mental Health: A silent crisis in public health to discuss the social factors that contribute to the mental health crisis that men are experiencing nationwide. We have since hosted two additional webinars that can be found on our Men’s Health webpage.
In the second year of the program, we have scaled up our efforts to focus more on sustainability and incorporating men’s health priorities into a wider range of existing programs. To bolster those efforts, we recognized the importance of accessible data which has inspired two very exciting projects: ‘Data Dashboard’ and ‘Fatherhood Experience Surveys.’
Our first project was creating a dashboard featuring a wide variety of men’s health data. Previously, health data on men was scattered throughout numerous data sets and reports, making it difficult to locate specific data points. This dashboard creates a centralized location for programs to reference to understand trends in behaviors and outcomes for men. This makes it easier for programs to identify disparities and track impact.
Fatherhood Experience Survey:
We recently launched the North Dakota Fatherhood Experiences Survey for a one-year pilot. The survey is the fifth instance nationwide of a survey designed to capture the paternal perspective on the period before, during, and shortly after pregnancy. The survey allows for the examination of risks, benefits and opportunities relating to parenthood, and men’s health to inform future programs and education. The survey is modeled after the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) that has been administered by the CDC since 1987.
Historically, there has not been a large-scale, U.S.-based surveillance system to capture the father’s perspective during the transition to parenthood, despite a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the impact of dads on family health, and their need for support during this period. We will be collecting novel data to tailor our efforts to best support North Dakota dads, moms, children, and families achieve their full health potential.
We are also in the process of creating a living document that will outline some of the best practices when working with men to maximize engagement in health promotion initiatives. We detail some of the behavioral barriers that men face when it comes to seeking health care. For example, it is considered a threat to traditional ideals of masculinity to admit something might be wrong and seek help from a health care or behavioral health provider. We then adapted some Do’s and Don’ts from the Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) about working with men and promoting engagement.
We hope that this document will be useful to North Dakota and beyond when designing initiatives that work with men to ensure that programs are aware of important considerations to facilitate engagement.
We are really excited about these projects and the traction around men’s health that we have been able to create in North Dakota.