How health services can better support boys and men

There’s an increasing number of resources developed for health conditions experienced by boys and men, and you could be forgiven for thinking that most of the innovation in modern men’s health initiatives is online. The reach of these virtual initiatives is wide, aided by rapid dissemination in this present age of digital health, social media and disruption. 

The expansion of online so-called ‘men’s health’ services has typically targeted younger male cohorts, advertising cures for erectile dysfunction, hair loss, and obesity, and products that enhance ‘wellbeing’. Health delivery by these services is transactional between the individual and a website URL. These services are extolled by their operators as supporting men by rapidly and discreetly delivering panaceas for their self-reported symptoms. This convenience circumvents thorough engagement with medical expertise, and integrated management of an individual’s overall health.

Treating the underlying causes of disease may be compromised by symptomatic treatments, renewed by returning customers. How can you properly investigate and treat underlying cardiovascular disease in a patient with erectile dysfunction? These systems are not built for that. In our era of fake news, health conspiracy theories and quick-fix remedies, the challenge to fortify public health messaging that addresses the underlying biopsychosocial determinants of men’s health is a challenge that seemingly grows every day. 

Men are often characterised as being reticent about their health. But a consideration that many have been pondering is whether health systems themselves perpetuate men’s health behaviours that work against them. Can health services do more in relation to boys’ and men’s health and wellbeing?

Health advertising to boys and men within healthcare waiting rooms is five times less frequent than female-oriented advertising1. This signals to men that our clinical spaces are not really for them. Creating safe and welcoming health services for men and boys requires very few interventions, which in turn may result in greater engagement.  

Understanding how boys and men access healthcare is important if we’re to deliver services that really are for them. The diverse places where boys and men interact provide opportunities for health promotion2. The expansion of Men’s Sheds here in Australia and in many other countries has been heralded as a defining example of organic men’s health in action3. Other notable initiatives to engage with men to their health have been within sporting clubs, barbershops, pubs and places of worship4

Health services could do well to heed the established advertising principles of product, price, place and promotion as we move ahead to respond to men’s health needs5. A good example of a healthcare service that is cognisant of its audience, service accessibility, setting and promotion is the McGrath Foundation breast cancer service. The McGrath Foundation model of care centralises a nurse coordinator within a framework of supportive care delivery and leans heavily into traditionally associated female imagery including colours and gendered representations. Whilst challenging hegemonic male stereotypes is often recognised as supporting men to break out from traditional norms and constructs, there may be a place for discussion on how men’s services operate within existing advertising principles when trying to appeal to boys and men.

Within health settings, there are emerging ideas about how practitioners can better engage and position themselves to reach men, who on average utilise healthcare services less often than women and often at a later stage of disease6.

A recent development in clinical men’s health is the philanthropic investment by the NELUNE Foundation to build a stand-alone men’s health centre within the St. Vincent’s Sydney Healthcare Campus. Supported by consumer demand for a more gender-focused approach to unmet supportive care needs within oncology, the St. Vincent’s NELUNE Men’s Health Centre signals a bricks-and-mortar approach to men’s health. Phase one of the Centre is due for launch in early 2023 and will deploy a large multi-disciplinary team to respond to prostate cancer treatment needs. Additional phases will incorporate other cancer tumour streams into practice, with a focus on vulnerable male populations.

The inclusion of the words ‘men’s health’ within the Centre’s name speaks to a nuanced departure from the traditional biomedical model of naming outpatient services based on the disease or condition (e.g. “diabetes clinic”) into a service that acknowledges men and manhood within a health paradigm. This purposeful shift in language is a statement of intent from St. Vincent’s healthcare planners — that consumers are greater than the sum of their disease or acquired conditions, and that a ‘men-in-mind’ approach is being purposefully deployed. 

Men’s health services are maturing and entering new territories in Australia, which is cause for optimism and excitement to patient groups and men’s health advocates. The challenge ahead is to support further sustainable models of male-centric healthcare delivery. 

Michael Whitehead
Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead is the Men’s Health Clinical Nurse Consultant at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, and the clinical lead for the St Vincent’s NELUNE Men’s Health Centre. Michael is a published author, researcher, presenter and men’s health advisor, who has presented at numerous men’s health forums, webinars and conferences locally and internationally. Michael has a Masters in Clinical Nursing focusing on primary and preventative health and has recently completed studies in Clinical Redesign with the NSW Agency of Clinical Innovation (ACI). He has presented alongside the World Health Organisation and at the World Congress of Public Health.


1. Whitehead, M., Chok, H. N., Whitehead, C., & Luck, L. (2021). Men's health promotion in waiting rooms: an observational study. International Journal of Men’s Social and Community Health4(1), e17-e27.

2. Oliffe, J. L., Rossnagel, E., Bottorff, J. L., Chambers, S. K., Caperchione, C., & Rice, S. M. (2020). Community-based men’s health promotion programs: eight lessons learnt and their caveats. Health promotion international35(5), 1230-1240.

3. Golding, B. (2021). Shoulder to shoulder: Broadening the men’s shed movement. Common Ground Research Network

4. Griffith, D. M., Ober Allen, J., & Gunter, K. (2011). Social and cultural factors influence African American men’s medical help seeking. Research on Social Work Practice21(3), 337-347.

5. Aya Pastrana, N., Lazo-Porras, M., Miranda, J. J., Beran, D., & Suggs, L. S. (2020). Social marketing interventions for the prevention and control of neglected tropical diseases: A systematic review. PLoS neglected tropical diseases14(6), e0008360.

6. Rosu, M. B., Oliffe, J. L., & Kelly, M. T. (2017). Nurse practitioners and men’s primary health care. American journal of men's health11(5), 1501-1511.

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