Driving the menís health message home
Menís health is a big issue, particularly because most blokes continue to drag their heels when it comes to getting help. So whatís the answer? Could a radical approach - say, a "workshop manual" for the body - turn menís attitudes around?
Advances in diagnosis and treatments have meant many health problems can be nipped in the bud before they become more serious.
But, while women have embraced the extra information now available and are far more relaxed about arranging a doctor's appointment, men frequently remain cut off from medical advice until their situation becomes dire.
Recently, a number of organisations have been trying to find ways of making it easier and more convenient for men to get hold of medical information. From drop-in clinics in shopping centres to email counselling services, it has become clear that if men are to be persuaded to look after themselves, the information needs to be better targeted.
But what is this "new" approach? And how do you get men to start thinking - and therefore worrying - about their health before anything actually goes wrong?
Well, one answer has come in the form of the Haynes Owners Workshop Manual for Man (Year: 120,000BC to Present Day; all models, shapes, sizes and colours).
Formed through a meeting of minds between the people behind the legendary Haynes car manuals and the Men's Health Forum - one of the main promoters of men's issues in the UK - the manual treats the male body as a car. For example, the engine management system is the brain, the chassis and bodywork are bones and skin, and the suspension and steering are the joints.
The book is laid out just like the Haynes car manuals and provides an overview of all aspects of health from spots to broken spines. Using cartoons to help break up the serious tone, the book emphasises the most common male problems and also makes useful suggestions about "maintenance".
For example, under the testicular cancer section, the cartoon encourages men to "have a good feel about under your own bonnet". The erectile dysfunction advice uses the strapline, "Not firing on all cylinders? Get to your man mechanic for a check up".
In short, promoters say it's the ideal way for a man to learn about a subject that either never normally enters his mind or is seen as unimportant in the wider scheme of things.
Man and machine
The author of the book and president of the Men's Health Forum, Dr Ian Banks, explains why he thinks it works. "It is the perfect format to use to talk to men about their bodies and their health," he says.
"We've struggled for years to create health information that men can really relate to and I think we've cracked it - when I was approached with the idea it just seemed so obvious I couldn't understand why it hadn't been thought of before."
Director of the forum, Peter Baker, is also confident. "Men do think about their bodies as if it were a machine and virtually every bloke gets the relevant Haynes manual when they buy a new car - even if they never actually use them. This is all just about finding new ways to encourage men to look after their health."
And getting men to do that means saving huge amounts of discomfort, pain and even lives. Research suggests that four in five men take too long before going to their GP, so every year millions suffer unnecessarily from treatable diseases like depression and erectile dysfunction.
"Ultimately," says Dr Banks, "we want to encourage men to get over their embarrassment and head-in-the-sand mentality and go to see a doctor as soon as something goes wrong with their body. And to go back if the first solution they try doesn't work - just as they would with their car."
A gift of life
The book has also got the thumbs up from ex-racing driver and broadcaster Tiff Needell. In the foreword he writes, "The Haynes manuals are legendary to British men young and old. So I think it is an act of genius to use this famous format to talk to men about their bodies and their health, although like most men I still know a hell of a lot more about my car than my body."
But all this is by the by - is the "Man Manual" going to achieve what it hopes to, namely to get men to learn about their bodies and act on something as soon as it bothers them?
"It's been a great success so far," enthuses Peter Baker. "We've sold tens of thousands of them and, although you'd expect me to say this, all the feedback so far has been positive. It makes the perfect present and we suspect women are buying it for their husbands or boyfriends for Christmas."
A quick straw poll suggests he is right, with most young women at least aware of the book and many of them slipping it into the Christmas stocking. However, the big question will be: will the bloke on the receiving end actually read it or will it become just another Christmas gift left to gather dust in the attic? We shall see.
Haynes Owner's Workshop Manual, £12.99, available in all main bookstores and Halfords.
Men's Health Forum