Despite statistics showing African American men are more likely to suffer from undiagnosed chronic illnesses and die an average of seven years earlier than men in other ethnic groups, a study at the University of Michigan found that a majority of these men do not visit the doctor because they find visits unsupportive and stressful. The patients surveyed also felt their doctors didn’t provide the support or advice they needed to learn healthier habits.

Conducted at the University’s School of Public Health’s Center on Men’s Health Disparities, the research found that the majority of the 105 men surveyed said they disliked their doctor’s tone during appointments, and the recommendations doctors gave were not supported with motivation or adequate information on how to specifically make lifestyle adjustments.

There is too much emphasis on what these patients don’t do to help their health, and not enough research on why they don’t change, says Derek Griffith, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study. Griffith says many African American men want to adopt healthier lifestyles. These patients are concerned about their health and understand the wellness choices they should make, but they face more subtle challenges beyond cost of care and health insurance.

In most cases, the men surveyed already knew they should lose weight or make healthier diet choices before they went to the doctor. What they really wanted from the appointment was guidance in figuring out how to make those changes without sacrificing what they enjoy, such as balancing a healthier lifestyle with family and social life, or determining ways to incorporate new habits into their already full lives.

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The urban, middle-aged African American men in the 14 focus groups said they only visited the doctor because their families encouraged them to go, or they were seeking test results. The study concluded that the men needed more practical support and information from doctors’ appointments, so they could understand how to more effectively incorporate healthier habits into their lives.

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