Consistent evidence confirms that excessive stress can adversely affect physical and mental health.

The recent ‘Game-On’ report surveyed 700 Australian men aged 16-25yrs and concluded that programs need to help young men cope better with stress and optimise their physical health to prevent development of mental health problems. ‘Game-On’ found that 50% of young men reported coping with stress was their biggest issue, while 25% experienced a diagnosed mental health disorder in the last year and currently there are 17.7 deaths per 100,000 from suicide.

The most recent Australian Health Survey (2011-12) highlighted that Australian men aged 18-24yrs have numerous health concerns, including statictics showing that:

  • 42% are overweight or obese
  • 97% do not consume recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables
  • 48% do not meet national physical activity recommendations
  • 68% consume alcohol at levels placing them at risk for health problem

These statistics are unacceptable. Previous research has shown that improving stress, diet and physical activity levels can positively impact on mental health outcomes However, despite young men having a high prevalence of health risk behaviours, they generally do not participate in health promotion programs and there are limited programs specifically designed to cater for the needs and preferences of this group. Most programs to improve health behaviours incorporate a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. This may not appeal to, or be effective in, young men who have different needs, preferences and perceived barriers to changing their lifestyle behaviours.

Gender-tailored interventions for young men may address these limitations and target the social diversity in young men (e.g. fathers, unemployed, students etc) and key environmental changes occuring at this life-stage (e.g. leaving home, beginning employment, cohabitation and starting tertiary education). We have previously shown gender-tailoring can be effective in men but younger men are harder to recruit. To ensure young men have access to programs that are appealing, it is imperative to involve them in program development to address their needs and preferences. We propose to develop and trial HEY MAN (eHealth to Enhance Your Mental health, physical Activity and Nutrition), a gender-tailored health and wellbeing program designed in response to the expressed needs of young men. 

HEY MAN is being developed with a user-driven approach. The program will be informed by extensive formative research involving young men to examine why they may not eat healthily or undertake exercise. We will also ask why young men would want to change these behaviours in a positive way and their preferences for program components. Focus groups (n=42 participants to date, to be completed Aug. 2014) and an online survey (n=300; to be completed Nov. 2014) will provide these perspectives.

HEY MAN aims to improve key lifestyle factors (stress, physical activity, nutrition, alcohol use) important in the prevention of mental health. This focus will appeal to young men compared to a primary focus on mental health. Importantly, targeting lifestyle behaviours will also promote overall health, wellbeing and quality of life.

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