Dr Phil Hammond, broadcaster and sessional GP in Bristol

Movember UK advice needs to be in line with the NHS

Picture the scene: you are down the pub with a motley collection of men, when one of them (unsurprisingly, the most hirsute) decides we should all enter into a male charity fundraiser called Movember. The money goes largely towards testicular and prostate cancer research, and the rules are simple. You have a clean shave on 1 November and then have 30 days to grow a moustache. Or, if you happen to be ginger, an attempted moustache. One of the attractions of Movember is that it is becoming a global movement. It started in Melbourne, and spread across Australia to New Zealand, the US, Canada, the UK, South Africa, Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.

Half a million UK men will apparently be subjecting themselves to the humiliation of looking like a peri‑pubescent Kevin for at least 2 weeks, while the moustache takes hold. I’ve been going for less than a week and my daughter refuses to be in the same room as me. My wife has decided that I’m much better to laugh at than kiss. But Mo Bros—as we’re touchingly called—always overcome. We share our trials and tribulations, we enjoy being part of a team with a common goal, we start talking about our own health and we raise lots and lots of money for a very good cause. What could be wrong with that?

The Movember website captures the ethos well: ‘Big steps have been taken towards changing attitudes and habits relating to men’s health around the world but there is still much to be done to catch up with the women’s health movement. Via the moustache, Movember aims to fulfil its vision of having an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health, by continuing to spark conversation and spread awareness of men’s health each year.’1

Having already signed up to the hairy lipped challenge, I went on Twitter to try to get sponsors but ended up with some stern criticism from the evidence-based medicine brigade. As well as raising a huge amount for reputable cancer charities, Movember offers health advice for men at various ages. The page on avoiding premature death through life-style change is witty, well-written and accurate,2 but the advice on health checks is not backed up by good science; for example, all men aged 50 years and over are advised to go to their doctor for a baseline prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.3 Many countries offer annual health checks and PSA screening for men, but the British prefer to wait for proof of efficacy. Writing generic men’s health advice that fits in with all health cultures and systems isn’t easy. The ‘evidence’ should be global but its interpretation rarely is.

So lots of the recommendations on the Movember site are out of kilter with what the NHS advises and offers,4 and the charity would be better served matching its advice to the health service of the country it’s operating in. Its work in Australia includes supporting research into the mental health of men and I’d like to see a similar approach here in the UK. Domestic abuse, alcoholism, workaholism, and drink-driving would be other good issues to tackle. But overall I think Movember is a force for good, encouraging men to think about and reflect on their health. Moustaches look ridiculous on most men, and in the unlikely event of mine ‘taking off’, I’ll have gone from teenage bum fluff to seventies porn star in a month. Patients look incredulous until you explain, and then they join in the conversation about men’s health. Surely that has to be a good thing? Anyway, it’s too late to turn back now. Please give generously!5

  1. Movember website. About. uk.movember.com/about (accessed 6 November 2012).
  2. Movember website. Men's health. uk.movember.com/mens-health (accessed 6 November 2012).
  3. Movember website. Men's health checklist. uk.movember.com/mens-health/health-checklist (accessed 6 November 2012).
  4. Margaret McCartney's blog: a forum on healthcare policy. www.margaretmccartney.com/blog (accessed 6 November 2012).
  5. mobro.co/philhammond1 (accessed 6 November 2012).G

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