September 30, 2010

Tennessee men score poorly on health report card

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Vanderbilt’s David Penson, M.D., MPH, speaks at Monday’s event presenting the 2010 Tennessee Men’s Health Report Card. Also talking were, from left, Robert Dittus, M.D., MPH, Gordon Bernard, M.D., Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., Meharry President Wayne Riley, M.D., MBA, MPH, State Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, M.S.N., R.N., and VU football coach Robbie Caldwell. (Photo by Anne Rayner)

Tennessee men score poorly on health report card

Robert Dittus, M.D., MPH, left, talks with Vanderbilt football coach Robbie Caldwell at Monday’s event. (Photo by Anne Rayner)

Robert Dittus, M.D., MPH, left, talks with Vanderbilt football coach Robbie Caldwell at Monday’s event. (Photo by Anne Rayner)

For the most part, the report's findings offer a sobering reminder that Tennessee's men should take a more active role to improve their own health.

Tennessee men received poor or failing grades in nine of 14 categories, including heart disease, overall cancer deaths, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, chronic liver disease, AIDS, motor vehicle deaths, suicide and homicide.

However, there is positive news in the categories of diabetes, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease, with Tennessee's men receiving passing grades. For deaths associated with diabetes and prostate cancer, Tennessee men received the highest grade in these categories.

The Report Card provides data on the health status of more than 3 million adult men, comparing Tennessee to national benchmarks for health improvement established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report offers the opportunity to prospectively focus on improving health and health care in specific areas.

“While there are positive findings in the 2010 Men's Health Report Card, it should be of great concern to all Tennesseans that obesity and lack of physical activity are epidemic among men in our state,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “With one-third of the state's men reporting they are obese, we need to continue to refine our role in primary prevention to support and motivate citizens. There is great opportunity to improve the lives of Tennesseans.”

Using comparative data from 2008, the most recent year available, the 2010 Report Card is a compilation of data from sources such as birth and death certificates, the statewide hospital discharge data reporting system, infectious diseases data reported to the State Department of Health, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey for Tennessee.

“Poor dietary choices and physical inactivity, along with risky behavior like tobacco use and alcohol abuse, contribute greatly to these health outcomes,” said State Health Commissioner, Susan Cooper, M.S.N., R.N. “Our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons are integral to our communities, and this report rings the alarm for us all to get on board to address the health issues that are shortening the life span of men in Tennessee.”

An age-specific examination of causes of death reveals that Tennessee men age 18-39 die most frequently from motor vehicle accidents; for men age 40-64, cancer is the most common cause of death; while men 65 and older most frequently die of heart disease.

And while leading causes of death change with age, they are, for the most part preventable by lifestyle changes such as wearing seatbelts, dietary changes and increased physical activity. In younger men, decreased alcohol and drug use could reduce motor vehicle accidents and also influence death rates from suicide, homicide and forms of unintentional injury.

“This report dramatically highlights that we men of Tennessee have much room for improvement when it comes to our health,” said Wayne Riley, M.D., MBA, MPH, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College. “It clearly can be likened to a proverbial 'shot across the bow,' which calls us to focus initially on a few simple things like fastening our seat belts, participating in early screenings for cancer and watching what we eat.

“More importantly, improving our men's health, even modestly, is indeed achievable and will help to free our wives, families and our significant others from the burdens of our relatively poor health status and enhance the economic and social development of our state,” Riley said.

Heart disease is a major cause of death for men of all ages in Tennessee. While deaths associated with heart disease have declined during the past five years, the number of deaths is still nearly twice as high as benchmark results in the CDC's Healthy People 2010 Report.

During 2008, 59 percent of all motor vehicle accidents in Tennessee involved failure to use proper restraints. Of those fatalities tested, 42 percent had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit. Comparatively, nationwide in 2008, only 31 percent of men killed in motor vehicle accidents had blood alcohol levels twice the legal limit.

“The report card shows that we are making progress in improving men's health in Tennessee, but there is still a lot of room for improvement,” said David Penson, M.D., MPH, professor of Urologic Surgery at VUMC and co-chair of the Report Card's advisory panel.

“There are lots of little things that we can do ourselves every day that will help. For example, if every man in Tennessee would remember to wear his seatbelt when he's in the car and to take a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes every day, it could make a big difference. The report card helps us to recognize these small changes we can each make that could make a big difference to our health,” Penson said.

To review the complete 2010 Tennessee Men's Health Report Card please go to