Teen Boys and Healthcare

Men, particularly young adult men, access health care less often than females. A recent study about adolescent males and health care published in Pediatrics looked at different things that predict adolescent male health care. Data from the National Survey of Adolescent Males conducted between 1988 and 1991 was used to conclude that efforts to increase male adolescent's health care access should increase the number of teens with health insurance, modify masculine stereotypes, improve parental communication about health, and target teens at risk for health problems.

The study reported that more than half of the 15-19 year-old males were sexually active, and 20% of them had two or more risk behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, using cocaine, having been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, or forcing someone else to have sex. Unfortunately, the teens with these risk factors were no more likely than teens without that risk to have had a physical exam within the last year.

I found it interesting that adolescent males who participated in this project and held traditional beliefs about what it means to "be a man," found it unmanly to see a doctor. The author' s suggestion that we work to modify masculine stereotypes is a good one, but I wonder if those stereotypes are as rigid today as they were when the data was collected.

The group of males who were the most likely to have had an examination were those who discussed sexual issues with their parents, and who had health insurance. We know that mothers communicate more about sex, and in this study communication with both parents was associated with more health care, but in males with traditional gender beliefs, talking to their fathers about reproductive health was particularly important.

Developing a pattern of regular preventive health care should be one of the habits learned by teens, and parents scan support that process by talking with teens, encouraging them to learn how to make appointments, and encouraging a relationship with their primary care provider that is positive and friendly.

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