McGowan: The Data on Men’s Health

July 31, 2023

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

The January-February issue of the AARP Bulletin had an article on heart disease stating that “for decades, women were underrepresented in clinical trials” and “women’s health is still understudied.” The article directed the reader’s attention to the alleged plight of women regarding research and knowledge of heart disease. Readers of the article were likely to infer that men constituted the majority of research subjects during investigations into heart disease.

That is an inference without evidence.

Apparently, the government of Indiana bought into that incorrect idea. Indiana has an Office of Women’s Health. The office states that “we believe that every woman should have access to free, up-to-date, and reliable resources to find out information about her health.” The office “wants to ensure that each woman and girl in Indiana is aware of her own health status, risks, and goals, and can achieve optimal health through access, education, and advocacy.”

Type “Indiana Office of Men’s Health” into a search engine and no government website appears. The lack of an Indiana Office of Men’s Health belies the data: Indiana’s CDC figures for 2018 of life expectancy at birth for women is 79.3 years and for men it is 74.4. If life expectancy and mortality rates dictate need, men’s health is more in need of resources from the government. The “health status, risks, and goals” of each man and boy appear to be less important to the government of Indiana.

In the defense of Indiana’s government, our leaders are simply following the crowd, even if the crowd has not done its homework. The popular narrative holds that research on women’s health is neglected and therefore, that women’s health is understudied. Hence, an Indiana Office of Women’s Health is needed but not a corresponding Office of Men’s Health.

If a person were to “follow the science,” what would the person discover? Is ‘women’s health still understudied? The National Institute of Health’s famous site, PubMed contains data on medical research. For instance, a person can search for “clinical trials with women as subjects” and see that the PubMed database contains 182,815 entries. The corresponding entries for “clinical trials with men as subjects” has 137,962 entries as of a Jan. 25, 2023, search.

PubMed enables narrower searches for entries over a designated period and a specified topic. For example, a person could limit the search to the last several decades, for articles from 1970 to 2023, specifically involving clinical trials on coronary heart disease with women as subjects. PubMed would show 46,570 entries whereas a corresponding search over the same period specifying coronary heart disease with men as subjects would show 42,435 entries. If the database of PubMed is reliable, more research has been done with women as subjects, not men, regarding coronary heart disease.

The data on coronary heart disease is consistent with another narrower search, one investigating the other leading killer, namely, cancer. A broad PubMed search under “cancer in women” would show 357,555 entries while “cancer in men” would show 111,042 entries.

A person “following the science” about scientific research would be hard pressed to justify the claim that women are understudied. It may have been true at one time that women were understudied but, again, if PubMed is reliable that time has passed.

Anyone skeptical of the data in this essay can replicate the investigation. That is a cardinal rule in scientific experimentation. If an experiment cannot be repeated or replicated, it is worth little. PubMed allows people to see the data for themselves, enabling them to “follow the science,” not the story.

Unsubstantiated popular narratives help no one. Failing to care for men and boys has knock-on effects; an unhealthy male population will have negative consequences for everyone, including women.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. 


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