Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Men at work

How do you talk to a man and get him to listen?

You give them what they want. It might seem like a trite answer, but for Dr. Kelly Bethea, director of adolescent health at the Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, it’s what’s working in her Male Adolescent Health Initiative, better known as MAHI. To get male adolescents involved in their own health and to get them to participate in their own preventive care, health professionals have to find out what motivates these men.

“You have to figure out what he values, and give him something for his time,” Bethea said during Monday's session on "Community Health Initiatives for Successful Communication to Men." “You have to really understand your audience and what they want. If they want respect and trust, you give that to them.”

In addition to conducting focus groups to find out what motivates a man to take a more active role in his health, a successful community program should get the buy-in of their intended audience. Albert W. Pless, Jr., program manager for the Cambridge Public Health Department in Massachusetts, said that striking partnerships with other community-based organizations is one way to get in with the reluctant male patient.

Pless described the Men’s Health League Program in Cambridge and how it succeeded in getting 30- to 45-year old men of color to take the reins of their health. The community health partnership worked closely with experts at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct programs in barber shops, fitness centers, gyms and in community centers. They recruited chefs to conduct cooking demonstrations, organized citywide basketball tournaments and led shopping tours at grocery stores.

Pless got the men involved by giving them what they wanted — access to a personal trainer at the gym, free membership to a fitness facility, group workout classes and, oddly enough, wrist bands.

“We asked what would incentivize them to come, and they said wrist bands,” Pless told session attendees.

The wrist bands symbolized a brotherhood of sorts. The men enjoyed meeting other men like themselves, who shared the same goal of improving their health, Pless said.

For a Hispanic community in San Mateo, Calif., gold medals and the adulation of their kids motivated men to improve their health in the My Hero nutrition program.

“The message we provided to them was that they were important, their kids look up to them and they are role models,” said Lydia Guzman, a registered dietitian with the San Mateo County Health System. “They wanted respect, which for them meant empowerment.”

Guzman and her colleagues wanted to conduct a nutrition class specifically for men, but knew no one would show up, even with the promise of free food.

“We used children and the ‘nag factor’ as change agents,” she said.

School children wrote letters to their heroes, and the fathers were asked to come to the school to be presented with their hero medals. While at the school, health professionals were on hand to share cooking techniques and health information. These fathers wanted the respect of their children, and My Hero showed the fathers and father figures that they were empowered to not only improve their health, but their children's health as well, Guzman said.

Michael Rovito, assistant professor and director of the Men’s Health Initiative at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, said the challenge in reaching college-age men is helping them understand how their current health status will affect their health in the long run. And information is key.

“I want to get guys informed so that they’re not as scared as I was,” he noted after he explained how his own health scare at the age of 17 led him to believe he might die. “I had no idea what was happening, where I could go and what I could do.”

Today, Rovito is involved in reaching that hard-to-get college man by using social media platforms and college campus events to draw attention to issues such as self-exams for testicular cancer. Another event, March Mustache Madness, encouraged men to grow their facial hair to raise awareness for men’s cancer.

“You really have to know your audience in order to get your message to them,” Rovito said.

— L.R.

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