Wise-Guy Zeal on Health

(Men's Health)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Since 2000, David Zinczenko has been editor in chief of Men's Health, an award-winning magazine that encompasses a wide range of health topics including fitness, nutrition, sex and weight loss. With a paid circulation of 1.8 million, the magazine ranks 41st among the 100 top-selling magazines, similar in size to Entertainment Weekly and Parenting, and outselling Esquire and GQ. Its readers have a median household income of almost $76,000 annually, about $16,000 more than that of the average heavy reader of periodicals , according to the Magazine Publishers of America.

We caught up with Zinczenko, 38, in his New York office.

Stepp: Men are historically uninterested in health issues. Why?

Zinczenko: It's not that they are uninterested. It's just that they don't like to share their concerns with anyone, including wives, medical doctors, insurance agencies and the ER staff. Admitting to a health problem is a sign of vulnerability, and they hate it more than they hate being sick.

But they have made some progress in the last 20 years. Today a lot of men compare their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers like they used to compare their maximum bench press. Anybody can go out and buy a plasma TV; health is the new hallmark of success.

Stepp: What are their most pressing health problems?

Zinczenko: Number one is their abs. Abdominal fat is a contributing factor to heart disease, diabetes, impotence and some forms of cancer. It's a huge health issue and plays on a guy's vanity as well. You shouldn't disparage the built-in motivational quality of vanity in helping a guy make a necessary change.

We're also behind a big push to help guys consider their mental health. Americans are finally focusing on this as a result of veterans returning from battle. Of the 1.4 million servicemen deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan as of November 2006, 30 percent used alcohol to cope. They also reported anxiety and depression in double digits, and 7 percent said they seriously considered suicide. The war is a bellwether for an ongoing mental health crisis among men.

Stepp: We're starting to see an increase in the number of teenage boys obsessed with their bodies. We know about the risks among girls for anorexia and bulimia. Are you concerned that the same thing will happen to boys?

Zinczenko: I'm not as concerned with kids suffering from body dysmorphic disorder as I am with obesity. Forty-five percent of this country's youth are overweight or obese, and the number who are diabetic has nearly quadrupled in 30 years.

Let's not treat vanity like a deadly sin. A little more vanity would save a lot more lives.

My main concern would be if kids became so competitive or obsessed with their bodies that they'd turn to steroids and have health problems as result of that. We used to have models on the cover who spent four hours in the gym going for the perfect body. Now we've moved toward celebrities and said, "Hey, leave the shirt on."

Stepp: Your magazine tends to promote the idea of sex, especially fantasy sex. Does sex motivate men to be healthy?

Zinczenko: Sex is a very important part of guys' lives. The more often they get it, the better. But it's only one component.

Most guys want to be in great relationships, but many have seen the wreckage of failed marriages. A lot of them are settling down later, in their mid-30s, because they want to do it right. It might seem during that time that they are shifty characters who are only motivated by sex, but I don't think that's the case.

We did a Harris poll of 5,000 men and women a few years ago. When we asked guys to choose between meeting the love of their life or having sex for six months, 92 percent preferred finding the love of their life. (I think the other 8 percent were probably Maxim readers.)

Stepp: Who is your target audience?

Zinczenko: We do really well from the late teens through early 40s. Half of our guys are married, the rest are single. The 18- to 29-year-olds are looking for hard-core fitness, sex and relationships, nutrition as it pertains to supplements, power foods, muscle meals. They don't really care as much about health because they're all bulletproof. Then you move into the 30s and 40s, and these guys are really interested in nutrition. Not everybody exercises, but everybody eats.

These guys are spending more time in the kitchen than ever. The macho chefs have made it okay. You can't walk out and work on your car anymore because it's all computerized, so you build things in the kitchen instead. Guys are realizing that the key to a well-managed life begins with a well-managed home.

Stepp: How do you find and vet your experts?

Zinczenko: We maintain a huge research department. Because of our international editions, we get to enjoy a network of experts, doctors and researchers who also are vetted by other magazines in other countries. We hire specialist editors who are trained for their fields. We also have a medical advisory panel that is tops in the business.

Stepp: I saw you quoted as saying American men are returning to the image of the rugged male hero. Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

Zinczenko: I think it's a good thing. Guys have grown more attuned to their bodies, feelings, needs and relationships. But there seems to be a rugged side as well: volunteering, leading and doing the tough jobs in a dangerous and complicated world.

Stepp: Do men feel these days like they have to do everything?

Zinczenko: I think so. In the past, a guy's attitude was, "Hey, I've got a degree and a buck in my pocket. Come on, women!" Today, women are like, "Hey, I've got that, too. I'm more likely to be a first-time homeowner than you, to have graduated from college than you, and to have finished postgraduate studies." So guys think, "I better get my act together. Make more of an effort, be on my game and match up. Because women are a lot more independent, sexually free and mobile."

Stepp: That can be pretty intimidating, can't it?

Zinczenko: Yeah, it can. But guys are up to the challenge. ¿


© 2008 The Washington Post Company