Statistics show that the most common cause of death in males is heart disease. But will this hold true when breaking down the data by age or ethnicity?

Why do men die?Share on Pinterest
Why do men die?

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Men’s health lags significantly behind women’s health, not just in the public eye, but also as a focus for the medical profession.

Do males die sooner than females? And is a Black male likely to die from the same cause as a White male?

In a Special Feature article, we explore the leading health risks in males and delve deeper into the data, breaking it down into relevant sections by age and ethnicity.

We also explore why research into men’s health should include males from all walks of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the top killer when analyzing data from males of all age groups and ethnicities in a large 2017 data set for the United States. Nearly one-quarter of death in males is due to heart disease.

But, to understand the full picture, it makes more sense to look at the data broken down by age or ethnicity, as this changes the landscape quite significantly.

While heart disease may be the most common reason for death in all males taken together, accidents occupy the top spot for those under 45 years of age. In males between the ages of 45 and 85, it is cancer. Once men reach 85 years old, heart disease is the most common cause of death.

In males under 45 years, suicide is the second most common reason for death, while in males between the ages of 45 and 64, it is the sixth most common reason.

In males over 65 years, suicide is not one of the 10 most common reasons.

The third most common cause of death in males under 20 years of age is homicide. Between the ages of 20 and 44, homicide is in fourth position, while it drops out of the list of the top 10 in males over 45 years.

When breaking down the data by ethnicity, heart disease once again takes the top spot for males of all ages, with cancer coming in second position, except for Asian or Pacific Islanders where they are the other way around.

RankWhiteBlackAmerican Indian or Alaska NativeAsian or Pacific IslanderHispanicAll races and origins
1Heart disease
24.7%
Heart disease
23.7%
Heart disease
19.4%
Cancer
24.8%
Heart disease
20.3%
Heart disease
24.2%
2Cancer
22.4%
Cancer
20.2%
Cancer
16.4%
Heart disease
22.6%
Cancer
19.4%
Cancer
21.9%
3Accidents 7.2%Accidents 7.9%Accidents 13.8%Stroke
6.6%
Accidents 11.5%Accidents 7.6%
4
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 5.9%
Homicide
5.0%
Diabetes
5.9%
Accidents 5.6%Stroke
4.7%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases
5.2%
5Stroke
4.1%
Stroke
4.9%
Chronic liver disease
5.3%
Diabetes
4.3%
Diabetes
4.7%
Stroke
4.3%
6
Alzheimer’s disease
2.9%
Diabetes
4.3%
Suicide
4.3%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases
3.2%
Chronic liver disease
4.0%
Diabetes
3.2%
7Diabetes
2.8%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases
3.2%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases
4.2%
Influenza and pneumonia
3.1%
Suicide
2.9%
Alzheimer’s disease
2.6%
8Suicide
2.7%
Kidney disease
2.6%
Stroke
3.1%
Suicide
2.7%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases
2.5%
Suicide
2.6%
9Influenza and pneumonia
1.9%
Septicemia
1.7%
Homicide
1.9%
Alzheimer’s disease
2.1%
Homicide
2.4%
Influenza and pneumonia
1.8%
10Chronic liver disease
1.7%
Hyper-tension
1.6%
Influenza and pneumonia
1.8%
Kidney disease
2.1%
Alzheimer’s disease
2.1%
Chronic liver disease
1.8%

The leading causes of death in men in the United States, 2017. Source:CDC

The third most common cause of death is accidents in all males, except for Asian or Pacific Islanders, where it is stroke.

In position four, the reasons for dying become significantly more diverse. For all males taken together, as well as for white males as a subgroup, it is chronic lower respiratory diseases. For Black males, it is homicide, while for American Indian or Alaska Native males, it is diabetes, for Asian or Pacific Islander males, it is accidents, and for Hispanic males, it is stroke.

Suicide features in eighth position for Asian or Pacific Islander and white males, in sixth position for American Indian or Alaska Native males, and in seventh position for Hispanic males. It is not in the 10 most common reasons for death for Black males.

According to the CDC, 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. live with a chronic disease, and 4 in 10 live with two or more chronic diseases.

Chronic diseases pose a significant risk to health for all. The CDC state that lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition, are major risk factors for many chronic diseases.

The rate of smoking among all males is almost 16%. Yet, a data breakdown by the American Lung Association from 2015 shows that 13.1% Hispanic men smoke, while among other ethnic groups, the rates were 20.9% for Black men, 19% for Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native males, and 12% for Non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander males.

Nearly 31% of men over 18 years had five or more drinks at least once in the past year, and 9.2 million men live with alcohol use disorder. Yet only 8% received treatment for the condition in the past year.

Data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey estimate that only 57.6% of all men reach the government’s recommended physical activity guidelines of at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes to 150 minutes vigorous intensity, aerobic, physical activity.

Across the U.S., 12.2% of males under 65 years old do not have health insurance, and 12% of men over 18 years report being in fair or poor health.

According to the Office for Minority Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the life expectancy for Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander men was 77.7 years based on 2015 Census Bureau data.

It was 72.9 years for Black men, 74.7 years for American Indian or Alaska Native men; for Asian American men, it was 77.5 years, and 79.6 years for Hispanic men, while it was 77.5 years for white men.

Data from 2017 shows that life expectancy for males of all ethnicities taken together has dropped to 76.1 years, which is 5 years less than females.

Research from 2019 shows that men’s health is underrepresented in biomedical research. When comparing published studies, the term “women’s health” was prevalent at nearly 10-fold that of the term “men’s health” from 1970 to 2018.

“[The] notions of ‘patriarchy’ and ‘male privilege’ are rampant in the media and in academic journals. These concepts, and the ethos surrounding them, are not only misguided, but they are likely detrimental to the health of men,” according to the study author. “They direct attention away from men’s health issues, and as generalizations, they do not accurately reflect the lives of many males.”

An international group of experts issued a Perspective article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 2014, asking that men be “included in the global health equity agenda.” They recommend that efforts to increase public health at a global scale must focus on both women’s and men’s health.

Yet effective campaigns that seek to improve the health of men must be mindful of other societal inequities.

Prof. Derek Griffith, director at the Center for Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, wrote in a commentary in the American Journal of Men’s Health that “the field of men’s health overall lacks significant attention to differences among men, and in the United States, there is little attention to men’s health in national plans to achieve health equity.”

“While men’s health has continued to grow, as a field, the literature on men of color, men who are sexual or gender minorities, men who live in poverty, and men who are marginalized by other structural relationships or identities have largely remained invisible.”

Prof. Derek Griffith

“Men’s health can only be brought into the discussion of disparities through race, ethnicity, or sexual and gender minority status,” Prof. Griffith continued.

“Both from the perspective of defining who is worthy of attentional resources and attention and informing programmatic and policy interventions, it is time to reconsider these definitions to facilitate men of color and other marginalized men receiving the scientific attention necessary to improve their health and well-being.”

Medical News Today asked Prof. Griffith what he thinks drives differences in health outcomes between different groups of men, particularly males from different ethnic backgrounds and from other marginalized groups?

“The racial and ethnic differences in health among men are rooted in the same inequalities that help explain other health disparities,’ he said. “African American, Native American, Latinx, and other marginalized men face more chronic stress and have fewer individual or collective resources to manage those stressors than white men.”

Prof. Griffiths also shared his views on what researchers can do to unearth the reasons that underpin these differences.

“I think we have to stop reducing men’s health to masculinity. Yes, the way men think about what it means to be a man can be harmful to health, but it also can be positive,” he explained. “Often, men’s efforts to help provide for their families, be active and present fathers, be leaders in their faith-based organizations or in their communities, or be good role models are also ways for men to be men. Paradoxically, prioritizing these can lead men to pay less attention to their health.”

Finally, Prof. Griffith urged us all to understand that men do not need to make a choice between fulfilling their role in society and looking after their health.

“The hard part is that they need to prioritize both, not choose between them,” he told MNT. “Women and other loved ones of men need to recognize the fact that we, as a society, often value men for prioritizing them, fulfilling these roles, and we need to support them in balancing health with these roles.”