Leeds: improving men's health

Men tend to have poorer health than women. In Leeds the public health team has sought to tackle this by getting a better understanding of men’s needs.

Following an investigation by academics, the council then started setting targets for engaging men and tailoring support so that it had a greater chance of appealing to them.

The challenge

In Leeds there are 360,000 men over the age of 16. They are more likely to live unhealthy lives and die younger than the women whom they live alongside.

One in five male deaths occur before the age of 65, compared to one in 10 female deaths. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are the biggest killers and overall the gap in life expectancy is more than three years.

What is more, nearly two-fifths of men aged 50 or over have a disability that affects their lives in some way on a daily basis.

Biology does have different effects on the health of men and women. However, the majority of men’s health problems are preventable and are related to their lifestyle or their socioeconomic conditions.

The solution

Three years ago, Leeds City Council’s public health team decided it needed to understand the issues better and respond more effectively to men’s needs.

Leeds Beckett University was commissioned to carry out a review of men’s health and the way men access services.

The final report published in 2016 made some clear recommendations, including more support to tackle social isolation, a focus on dads and greater integration between lifestyle services such as smoking cessation, alcohol support and healthy lifestyles to tackle the “clustering effect” of risk factors.

Tim Taylor, Leeds’ Head of Public Health (Localities and Primary Care), says it was clear the council had to address the gender gap.

“We needed to do more to tailor services towards men. We couldn’t just rely on a one-size-fits-all approach where men weren’t accessing services.

“We needed an evidence base to work from and the Leeds Beckett University report provided that.”

The impact

Since the report was published, the council has set about ensuring some services are designed in a way that means they will reach more men.

Targets for engaging men have been introduced into contracts for the cancer prevention campaigns for bowel and lung cancer, the healthy lifestyles service and the community development contract, which is aimed at the most deprived neighbourhoods in Leeds.

The council and other partners are also investing in third sector organisations in Leeds that work with men.

These include health promotion sessions offered at football and rugby matches, while the local social prescribing scheme involves projects such as men-only swimming sessions and walking football.

Similarly, the Men’s Sheds scheme gets funding, as does Leeds Dads, a support organisation that aims to help men be actively engaged in the parenting of their children through a range of meet-ups and low cost or free activities, such as outings to museums and playgrounds.

The arts-based Space 2 project is having great success too. It is focussed on improving mental health and wellbeing, providing an opportunity for men to socialise together and receive support.

Derek, who has suffered from depression, is just one of the men who has been helped. He attends weekly groups. “The support you get is worth more than gold. I’ve realised I’m not alone and have become more confident.”

Lessons learned

Mr Taylor says when commissioning reviews like this, the key challenge is ensuring it does not “just sit on the shelf”.

“We wanted it to be used not just by us, but by GPs and the third sector when bidding for money. We wanted it to have real impact - so we made sure when it was published that we promoted it to our key partners.”

There was an official launch event at Leeds Beckett University and this was followed up by presentations to the local medical committee, a regular meeting for GPs and the local third sector forum.

“This has been really important,” says Mr Taylor. “Having an academic paper provides the evidence you need. But you have to make sure you get it out there and get people using that evidence.”

How is the approach being sustained?

Leeds continues to look at the way services are being delivered with future contracts likely to include targets for engaging men.

The public health team is also looking at commissioning a new review on women’s health to complement the men’s one. This is expected to be ready early in 2019 and should pave the way to develop gender sensitive services for women where they are not accessing services.

Executive Member for Health, Wellbeing and Adults Councillor Rebecca Charlwood says: “We know that everyone is different and our health and wellbeing is affected by many factors such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality, which is why it is important that the way services are designed reflects the specific needs of individuals.

“Putting individuals at the centre of how we design and deliver services will be important as we strive to be the best city for health and wellbeing.

“I am pleased that the council and partners are investing in services which support men’s health needs and I hope that we can further build on this approach to develop gender sensitive services, which also tailor to the needs of women where they are not accessing services.”

Contact: tim.taylor@leeds.gov.uk

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