Boys' Health

Menstuff® has compiled information on the boys health around the world.

In most regions of the world and on various indicators, the health condition of boys lags behind the health of girls.

One well-known indicator of health status is Disability-Adjusted Life Years -- DALYs for short. DALY is a measure of life span that adjusts for disabilities.

According to the World Bank, the overall Disability-Adjusted Life Years for boys 10-19 years old is lower than for girls of the same age (Ref. 1). This disparity is found in 6 out of the 8 regions of the world. In Latin America, for example, the DALYs for adolescent boys is 26% worse than for girls of the same age.

This report summarizes what we know about the health disparities of boys in the 6 following areas: nutritional status, domestic physical abuse, occupational health, suicide, war-related deaths, and utilization of health services.

1. Nutritional Status: The health disadvantage of boys begins at the earliest ages. According to a United Nations summary, 19 of 24 national surveys revealed that boys under 5 years of age were more likely to be undernourished than girls (2). The problem persists into adolescence -- most studies have found that at least twice as many adolescent boys as girls are undernourished (3).

A likely explanation for these findings is that mothers favor the nutritional needs of girls when food supplies become scarce.

2. Domestic Physical Abuse: Studies consistently show that boys receive more physical punishment than girls (4). In Jordan, boys were 7 times more likely than girls to be victims of physical abuse resulting in injuries (5). In Brazil, 61% of boys ages 11-17 reported being victims of physical violence from their parents, compared to 47% of girls (6).

3. Occupational Health: In many poor countries, boys are forced to become providers for their families at a young age. According to a WHO report, many boys work with toxic materials or work on the streets where they are exposed to traffic hazards (7, page 41). In one Italian study, 90% of all work-related injuries to children and youth were among males (8).

4. Suicide: Suicide among boys is another area of international concern. Across all ages, males are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than females. Sadly, this sex disparity arises at an early age. The largest number of suicides among children ages 5-14 occurred in these 6 countries (9, Table A.9):






United States















5. War-Related Deaths: According to Amnesty International, more than 300,000 children -- almost all boys -- are fighting in conflicts around the world. Underage male conscripts are forced into combatant roles because of their size, agility, and fearlessness. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the recruitment of children under 15 as soldiers as a war crime.

Non-combatant boys also are at higher risk for war-related deaths for two reasons. First, these civilian boys are targeted by hostile factions that suspect these boys may become future war combatants. Second, during times of civil unrest, boys are often sent out of the security of the home environment to get food and supplies, to tend to animal herds, or to earn money.

As a result, 30,000 boys ages 5-14 around the world died of war-related injuries in 2000, compared to 14,000 females (9, Table A.5).

6. Utilization of Health Services: One WHO report reviewed findings from studies conducted in several countries, and concluded that boys are less likely than girls to seek health services when they them (7, page 20). The document noted that male adolescents were far less likely to utilize clinics that provide sexual and reproductive health services (7, page 37).

The WHO report concluded, "Other anecdotal information finds that young men sometimes encounter hostile attitudes in clincs, that they perceive maternal and child health clinics as 'female' spaces, and that they are even turned away from clinics" (7, page 21).

Boys at Risk

Clearly, boys have many health needs, and are at greater risk for disease and death in many areas. But for reasons that will be explored in a future MHA Special Report, international agencies have devoted less attention to the health of boys than the health of girls.


1. World Bank. World Development Report 1993: Investing in Health. New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.
2. United Nations: Too Young to Die: Genes or Gender? New York, 1998.
3. Kurz K, Johnson-Welch C. The Nutrition and Lives of Adolescents in Developing Countries: Findings from the Nutrition of Adolescent Girls Research Program. Washington, DC, International Center for Research on Women, 1995.
4. Lytton H, Romney DM. Parents' differential socialization of boys and girls: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin Vol. 109, pages 267-296, 1991.
5. UNICEF: The Situation of Jordanian Children and Women: A Rights-Based Analysis. Amman, Jordan, 1997.
6. Goncalves de Assis S. Growing up Without Violence: A Challenge for Educators. Brasilia: Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz/Escola Nacional de Saude Publica, 1997. (Published in Portugese).
7. World Health Organization: What About Boys? A Literature Review on the Health and Development of Adolescent Boys. Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, 2000.
8. Pianosi G, Zocchetti C. Work-related accidents among minors in Lombardy. Medicina del Lavoro, Vol. 86, pages 332-340, 1995.
9. World Health Organization. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: WHO, 2002.

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The first wealth is health. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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