MEN'S health will come under close examination in Darlington after health officials warned of a bleak outlook for many male residents.

The perils of unhealthy living were described at a seminar in the town, aiming to help men overcome factors which see them fall prey to disease and have a shorter life-span.

Darlington Primary Care Trust (PCT), the borough council and the voluntary sector joined forces to tackle the gender inequalities that have an impact on men's health, limiting the average life expectancy to 75.3 years.

Delegates heard that almost 40 per cent of men drank too much, 28 per cent smoked and 35 per cent of younger males took illegal drugs.

Research also revealed that:

* Men's provision in nursing homes was limited

* Leisure facilities did not target men in the same way as women

* Very little health information was directed at men.

The trust's practice nurse clinical lead, Barbara Hudson, said women were more used to accessing health services because of screening programmes, family planning and maternity services.

"We only catch the men if they are referred to the doctors for something or if their wives send them," she said.

The meeting heard that the problem was deep-seated and cultural and surrounded the socialisation of males from childhood.

Residential social worker with Darlington Borough Council, Dave Collywood, said: "Boys see themselves as untouchable and don't think about the consequences of sex, drink and drugs, where women talk to their friends about health issues, getting pregnant or catching sexually transmitted infections."

The PCT's "stop smoking" advisor, Darcy Brown, said that nationally, men were less likely to access services, smoked more and for longer and died earlier.

He said he had come across ten-year-olds smoking 30 a day and being rewarded by parents with cigarettes for running errands to the shops.

The seminar findings will be drafted into a report forming the basis of an action plan to improve men's health in Darlington.