30 January 2020.

The figures are stark and sobering: Australian men have a shorter life expectancy than women and die from heart disease at nearly twice the rate – statistically men seek medical advice much later in the course of their illness.

How to turn things around? An online-early paper published in the Sax Institute’s peer-reviewed journal Public Health Research & Practice takes a look at Sons of the West, a men’s health program in West Melbourne associated with the Western Bulldogs AFL club. The paper’s author, Dr Carolyn Deans – an Adjunct Fellow at Victoria University’s Institute for Health and Sport – finds that the program has impacted men’s lives in profound and positive ways.

Founded in 2013, the Sons of the West (SOTW) initiative partners with government, community stakeholders and ambassadors to encourage men in West Melbourne to participate in healthy activities to improve their mental and physical health. From cooking classes, walking groups, exercise sessions, to exploring mental health issues and building resilience, SOTW creates a supportive environment for men to talk about their lives and share their stories.

The Sons of the West men’s health program in West Melbourne is helping men improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

The peer reviewed paper, entitled Exploring the impact of a large gender-sensitised health promotion program: the Sons of the West program, focuses on the results of surveys completed before and after the ten week men’s health program. The findings show improvements in psychological wellbeing, individual resilience and a sense of connectedness.

In the paper, Dr Deans writes that the importance of behaviour change in healthcare is substantial, in terms of both morbidity and mortality risks.

“Many existing interventions that target health-related behaviours rely on influencing the way people consciously think about their behaviour, assuming that people change behaviour when their motivations and intentions are changed.”

A partnership between Victoria University and the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation (WBCF), headed by Professor Jenny Sharples (Head of Clinical Services/Psychology), was established in 2017 and continues to examine the ways in which the Foundation contributes to the health and wellbeing of the community.

“Sons of the West is a powerful program and it does change lives. Together with the Community Foundation, our researchers at Victoria University are working to find out how this program is effective and share that knowledge so that others can be empowered to improve their physical and mental health,” says Dr Deans.

Western Bulldogs Community Foundation General Manager Kashif Bouns says it’s important to ensure the foundation’s programs are evidence based and cutting edge.

“The unique nature and audience group of the SOTW program means our content and outcomes need to be consistently evaluated. We’re very fortunate to have a long-standing and successful partnership with VU and studies like this provide us with the guidance to ensure our program content and delivery is at the highest possible standard”

Access the paper here.

Find out more about the Sons of the West here.

A version of this article was originally published here.