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Men’s health issues In Tennessee vary widely based on race, ethnicity and geographic region; 2014 Report Card shows progress

Jun. 10, 2014, 12:00 PM

Health issues affect the men of Tennessee in many different ways, depending on race, ethnicity and even geographic region.

White men are more apt to commit suicide or die from a drug overdose or in a car wreck. Black men are more prone to suffer from chronic diseases and HIV. Hispanic men are disproportionately affected by colorectal cancer. Men in rural and urban areas seem to face different health challenges too.

Vanderbilt’s Derek Griffith, Ph.D., speaks at Tuesday’s event at the Ellington Agricultural Center presenting the 2014 TN Men’s Health Report Card. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Representatives from the Vanderbilt Institute for Medicine and Public Health, the Tennessee Department of Health and Meharry Medical College were part of the team that developed the 2014 TN Men’s Health Report Card. The group met Tuesday at Ellington Agricultural Center to discuss the findings of the report card and they are eager to find solutions to these health disparities as the state moves forward with a comprehensive plan to improve the health of its population.

“The biggest thing to me that came out in the 2014 TN Men’s Health Report Card was the need to think about the disparities among men within the state,” said Vanderbilt’s Derek Griffith, Ph.D., who chaired the committee for the 2014 TN Men’s Health Report Card. “Black, white and Hispanic men tended to have very different health profiles and I don’t think we appreciated that to the degree that this document has illustrated.

“The other thing we found is that we don’t have good explanations for why some areas of the state have such different rates of heart disease and cancer when compared with other parts of the state. You have geographic differences and racial and ethnic differences that we just don’t have good answers for so it really does warrant bringing together communities in the state to explore why these patterns are the way they are and what we can do about them as a state,” said Griffith, also associate professor of Medicine, Health and Society and director of Vanderbilt’s new Institute for Research on Men’s Health.

Since June is Men’s Health Month, to jumpstart these conversations, Tennessee Men’s Health Report Card Advisory Panel members from across the state are organizing public events in Johnson City on June 20, in Jackson on June 25, and in Memphis on June 28.  Other men’s health events in Knoxville and Chattanooga are being organized in months to come.

The 2014 Tennessee Men’s Health Report Card looks at how men were doing on a series of health indicators in 2012 in comparison with national Healthy People 2020 goals, and also at changes in performance on these indicators, both positive and negative, between 2007 and 2012.

“Understanding the health strengths and weaknesses in our state’s population of men is important to the ongoing work of our many health, health care, economic, social and environmental organizations to grow progress and drive health improvement,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, M.D., MPH.

“Across Tennessee, there is no individual, family, organization, business or community not impacted in significant ways by the health of others. We have to continue to work together and focus attention on lifestyles and lifestyle changes that keep us as healthy and as fit as we can be to make the most of our time, reduce the burden of preventable health issues, and detect and address health issues early—Start now.”

Tennessee men are seeing steady gains in their health since the first report card was released in 2010, but subpar high school graduation rates and men whose incomes were below federal poverty guidelines remain a concern. In addition, more than one-in-five men in the state did not have health insurance coverage in 2012.

Report authors noted that white, black and Hispanic men had lower death rates from heart disease, stroke and diabetes in 2012 as compared to 2007 but the rates for each of these outcomes remains unacceptably high. More than half of deaths for Tennessee men in 2012 were attributed to heart disease, cancer and lung disease.

“Overall, heart disease and cancer are the top two causes of death for men in Tennessee at 24.7 percent and 24.4 percent, respectively,” said Duane T. Smoot, M.D., chair, Department of Internal Medicine, Meharry Medical College. “The state has been doing very well with regard to heart disease, as the death rates have been declining. However, with regard to cancer, the state is not doing that well and we continue to have significantly more African-American men than White and Hispanic men dying from cancer.”

The Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness is coordinating efforts to focus on improving physical activity, a healthy diet, and reduction of tobacco and e-cigarette use. New partnerships with the Men’s Health Network and other local and national groups are providing support services in communities across the state for Tennesseans trying to make personal lifestyle changes.

Griffith suggests that, moving forward, the state should set its own goals as a benchmark to guide efforts to improve men’s health in addition to the national Healthy People 2020 goals. Copies of the report card can be downloaded from

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