It takes two to tango: a man’s preconception health matters

Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPHToday we welcome guest blogger Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH, Director, The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative.

What is Men’s Preconception Health?

It’s National Men’s Health Month! A time to raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. What a great time to encourage guys to schedule their annual wellness visit and think about their daily health behaviors.

Men are often an afterthought when it comes to preconception care and sexual health conversations, if they are reached at all. To make it worse, messaging that has been directed to men is often under researched and ineffective. Women are often the focus when it comes to preconception health, but men are just as important! After all, it takes two to tango and create a child. A man’s reproductive health is an important component of his overall health and well-being.

The CDC recommends ten things that men can do to improve their reproductive health and wellness. Healthy guys are more likely to be able to reach for and achieve their life goals.

Here are some key steps men can take towards a healthy lifestyle from Everywoman Southeast:

Make a Plan and Take Action

Men should consult with their health care provider to discuss which contraceptive method is best for him and his partner based on overall health, age, frequency of sexual activity, number of partners, desire to have children in the future, and family history of certain diseases. Men absolutely can and should think about when, if and how many children they would like to have in their life. While there aren’t as many contraceptive choices for men as for women, men should learn about all the options available for their partner and be part of the conversation!

Get Tested!

Get screened and treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is important to discuss the risk factors for STIs with a health care provider and ask about getting tested. It is possible to have an STI and not know it, because many do not cause symptoms. Men with STIs need to ask a provider about treatment to address symptoms, reduce progression, and decrease or eliminate the risk of transmission.

Prevent and Stop Drug Abuse

Smoking, illicit drug use, and binge drinking can cause infertility among men. Men are more likely than women to drink excessively. Excessive drinking is associated with significant increases in short-term risks to health and safety, and the risk increases as the amount of drinking increases. Additionally, a pregnant woman who is exposed to secondhand smoke has a 20% higher chance of giving birth to a baby with low birth weight than women who are not exposed. Talk to your health care provider if you need help quitting, and/or contact the National Quit Hotline 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight

People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for many serious conditions, as do people who are underweight. In addition, obesity among men is directly associated with increased male infertility. The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. It’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity. Men should be encouraged at every age to be physically active and make healthy food choices.

Prevent and Stop Violence

Violence affects people in all stages of life, and destroys relationships and families. Men, boys, fathers, uncles and brothers DO and MUST play an ACTIVE role in ending violence in all forms. There are a number of resources available to help engage men and youth in preventing violence, and especially, violence against women.

Get Mentally Healthy

Depression is under-diagnosed in men. Men are over four times more likely than women to commit suicide. Most men don’t realize that some of the physical symptoms they may experience -things like chronic pain and digestive problems – could actually be caused by a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or stress. There are also some men who suspect that they have a problem, but suffer in silence, afraid to admit they need help. Since mental health is very important to one’s overall health and well-being, men of all ages should be encouraged to seek help from a professional when needed.

Recognizing and preventing men’s health issues across the life course is important since it impacts the lives of their families, and the overall community. Remember: The single most important way men can take care of themselves and the ones they love is to actively take part in their health care.

Show Your Love Today Campaign (003)Find more information about men’s role in preconception health and life planning here: www.showyourlovetoday.com.

Bringing men into the conversation!

The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, a public-private partnership of 70+ national organizations working to advance preconception health, is gearing up to launch Show Your Love. March of Dimes has partnered with PCHHC on this first and only consumer-focused preconception health campaign. Show Your Love seeks to help young men and women understand the significance their choices and health have on their future families. The resource website and social media campaign is meant to spark action for consumers to “Show Your Love” – to themselves, their significant other, their family/future family – by taking care of their health today.

Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH, is the Executive Director at UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health, which provides direct clinical services to high risk mothers and infants, conducts health services research, coordinates statewide programs, and provides patient and health care professional education. She serves as the Director of The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PCHHC), a public-private partnership of over 70 organizations focused on improving the health of young women and men and any children they may choose to have. She coordinates the five workgroups within the PCHHC: Consumer, Clinical, Policy & Finance, Surveillance and Research, and Public Health. Sarah is a clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work.

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