Women have healthier lifestyles, but are sicker

March 12, 2018 - 06:20

Norwegian women live healthier lives than their male counterparts. Nevertheless, they have more health problems. Why is that?

In almost every way, women live healthier lives than men. Yet data show they are sicker. (Illustration photo: Halfpoint / Shutterstock / NTB scanpix)

By almost every measure, Norwegian women live much healthier lives than men. They are more physically active than men. They have a healthier diet. They are less likely to be overweight. They drink less alcohol. They eat more fruit, vegetables and greens.

Women are also better at getting medical care if they need it. And at least by some measures, it has paid off: Women in Norway live almost four years longer than men.

Women are sickest

Men, on the other hand, drink far more sugary drinks like soda and juice. And they drink more alcohol.

The older men get, the less exercise they get compared to their female age cohort.

Body mass index (BMI) clearly reflects the difference between men and women's lifestyle choices. Norwegian men are more likely than women to be either overweight or obese.

In spite of all this, Norwegian women are more likely than men to report health problems. Their illnesses tend to be more prolonged, and they also report more symptoms of mental problems. 

As a result (and perhaps not surprisingly) they take almost twice as much sick leave as men: sick leave for women in the third quarter of 2017 was at 8.3 per cent, according to Statistics Norway’s numbers. That same percentage for men during the same quarter was 4.9 per cent.

A new publication from Statistics Norway called “Dette er kvinner og men i Norge” (Women and Men in Norway) lays out these and other tantalizing insights into the striking differences between Norwegian men and women in 2018.

Men have more years of good health

Both men and women in Norway are steadily living longer than ever before. And for both sexes, more and more of those years are healthy.

Nevertheless, men still do better by this measure. Even though Norwegian women live almost four years longer than Norwegian men, they have fewer years of good health.

A Norwegian woman can expect to have 69 healthy years, while a man can expect to have 72 healthy years.

Women in Norway now live an average of 84 years. On average, men in Norway can expect to live to age 80.

Good health, but more health problems

The difference between how women and men describe their own health is not really that big, however, according to Statistics Norway.

A total of 81 per cent of all men and 78 per cent of all women responded in 2015 that their health was good.

Women, however, are more likely than men to report health problems that limit their everyday activities.

Women also more often report suffering from prolonged illnesses and report a higher incidence of pain. They have more headaches and are more likely than men to report symptoms such as coughs, nausea, indigestion and dizziness.

But the statistics show that women go more often than men to see physicians, dentists, psychologists and physiotherapists.

They are also more likely than men to go to alternative therapists.

Poorer mental health

The Statistics Norway data also show that women have poorer mental health than men.

Women are much more likely than men to say they are irritable, aggressive, have sleep problems and concentration difficulties. All of these are signs of poor mental health.

But on the positive side: More women than men in Norway feel that their life is meaningful.

Women also say that they are more satisfied with life.

Possible explanations 

These counterintuitive differences between the sexes can probably be explained by both biology and social conditions.

The most obvious biological difference between women and men is that women give birth. The stress of childbearing on the body may be one reason that women are more prone to illness than men.

On the other hand, men are much more likely to indulge in risky behaviour. They are more likely to die in traffic accidents, drowning accidents, poisoning and overdoses than women. And they are less likely than women to seek help for health problems if they need it.

Sources:

“Dette er kvinner og men i Norge” (Women and Men in Norway), a sampling from Statistics Norway's statistics, 2018.

Statistics Norway's sick leave statistics.

-------------------------------------

Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

Country

Today's selected stories