Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Interviews with Boys on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health: Implications for Health Literacy

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Interviews with Boys on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health: Implications for Health Literacy

Article excerpt


It is the intention of this paper to investigate the role of masculinity within the context of boys' health literacy, physical activity and dietary behaviours. Imbedded within the decisionmaking process for boys around physical activity and dietary behaviours is that of masculinity and health literacy. Despite the emerging focus on masculinity and mental health (Addis and Cohane 2005), there has been a conspicuous paucity of research specifically linking masculinity to physical health research. Noteworthy is that where mental health is concerned it has been acknowledged the need to link a sound theoretical basis to research and interventions (Addis and Cohane 2005). While scholars such as Courtenay (2000a, 2000b) have attempted to theorise masculinities and health, very few research projects use masculinities as a lens through which data around physical health is analysed. Galdas et al. (2005) have attempted to identify this particularly in relation to 'ill health'. Their following claim highlights the literature gap around masculinities in men's health research:

The dearth of studies integrating masculinity and men's perceptions into the investigation of help-seeking behaviour represents a significant gap in the literature. To date, no research has explicitly investigated whether men's perceptions of masculinity influence their decisionmaking processes with regard to seeking help when they experience ill health. (Galdas et al. 2005:621)

While Galdas et al. (2005) have framed this claim around the relationship between masculinity and 'experiencing ill health', we acknowledge this may be a local perspective given the research and interventions that are being conducted in specific areas of men's health such as prostate cancer, HIV, body image and eating disorders (Drummond 2002).

This paper utilises masculinities, and the way in which masculinity is socially constructed, as a theoretical lens to analyse the data of young males. It investigates possible barriers and enablers of health-oriented physical activity and nutrition within the context of masculinity with a view to improving health education and health promotion for boys and young males. It is noteworthy that the Australian Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) recently released Australian National Male Health Policy (DoHA 2010) does not mention 'masculinity' or 'masculinities' in any of the documentation. Presumably, at a policy level, masculinity is not perceived to be important within the context of men's lives and their health. Given that policy can often drive the type of research undertaken, this omission sends a clear message that studies on masculinities and health are not a part of the national men's health agenda within Australia. This is concerning and needs redressing.

Masculinity and health literacy

Importantly, the Australian National Male Health Policy (DoHA 2010) has referred to the significance of health literacy for males. It has also identified the significance of taking this into consideration within a life course approach. Therefore boys and young males need to be identified within this discussion. This paper provides important contextual information around health literacy and boys.

Masculinity plays an important role in the health of men and boys by influencing how they recognise, interpret, and act upon health messages. Understanding the links between the social construction of masculinity and health literacy is a key in developing health promotion strategies specifically for men and boys. Masculinity is a social construction played out in a variety of ways among different groups of males (Connell 1995). In Western culture, masculinity is socially constructed in a manner that has the potential to impede health promotion and personal health education. For example, taking action towards attaining health is seen by some males as being a feminine ideal, while risk-taking and attitudes that flout convention about health can be seen as a masculinised trait. …

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