There are certain topics in public health that involve body parts that evoke embarrassment when raised for discussion but are absolutely critical in achieving optimal health – breastfeeding is one of them, and male circumcision is another. Breastfeeding may be embarrassing to some folks, but it shouldn’t be; it’s a totally natural act that not only leads to a myriad of positive health outcomes for the baby – fewer allergies, fewer illnesses, less incidence of obesity – but also for the nursing mother, including lower rates of cancer and diabetes.
Recently, USA Today reported on a series of improved medical outcomes brought about by male circumcision – a topic which some might find embarrassing but that is proving critical not only to men’s health, but also the health of their sexual partners. Unfortunately, rates of circumcision have been dropping since the 1970s, in part because shockingly, Medicaid programs have stopped covering the procedure in 18 states. About 56 percent of newborns were circumcised in 2008, down from 64 percent in 1995. In the 1970s and 80s, nearly 80 percent of male babies were circumcised. If the trend continues, and rates drop to 10%, this would mean:
- 211% more urinary tract infections in baby boys
- 12% more HIV cases in men
- 29% more Human Papillomavirus in men
- 18% more high risk HPV infections in women
More cases of cervical and penile cancer linked to HPV would result. Researchers estimate the each skipped circumcision in men costs an additional $313 in medical bills, which totals over a decade to $4 billion. These estimates are based on a study in Uganda in which men underwent circumcision and were followed, along with their female partners.
Interestingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics is about to issue a new policy statement that changes their formerly neutral stance and now will say that circumcising baby boys has significant health benefits. There are some risks as well, bleeding, pain and possibility of infection, that AAP’s research acknowledges. But this new information on circumcision is evidence-based research at its best. And we welcome these new studies in our quest to provide baby boys – and the men they grow up to be – with the best possible health outcomes.