A study for Norwich Union Healthcare has shown that more than 2.5 million men in the UK could have fertility problems. The researchers asked doctors in general practice (GPs) about male infertility, finding that a nearly a third of them worried that declining male fertility will impact on an already ageing population, unless men take action to reverse the trend. Many of the doctors surveyed blamed the decline in male fertility on the modern lifestyle.
The Norwich Union research showed that the quality and quantity of sperm produced by men in the UK has declined over the past 30 years. It also showed that while infertility is commonly thought to be a female problem, including by the majority of men surveyed for the research, that in about one third of all couples who have trouble conceiving, it is male infertility that is the root of the trouble.
The study results show that about nine per cent of men in the UK could be suffering from reduced or poor fertility. Many of the GPs surveyed said that this might be caused by lifestyle choices such as drinking large quantities of alcohol, smoking, or not taking enough exercise. Of these factors, smoking was believed to be the most likely, with 44 per cent of doctors surveyed saying that this was likely to be the main contributing factor. In comparison, only 11 per cent blamed alcohol and only seven per cent blamed stress. However, a number of GPs also said that other factors, such as delaying having children until slightly older, might also contribute, as fertility in both men and women decreases with age.
Dr Ann Robinson, a GP, said that 'the results of this survey are shocking and should be a wake-up call to men and women that drinking and smoking too much not only gives you a bad headache in the morning but can affect your ability to start a family'. However, 94 per cent of the doctors said they do not have enough time to offer fertility 'MOTs' to men wishing to start a family.
Men were also asked about their attitudes to and awareness of infertility. The results showed that 51 per cent (of the 797 men surveyed) were more concerned with the financial implications of raising a child than their ability to become a father. Nevertheless, more than two thirds felt it would be beneficial for doctors to offer fertility check-ups to men wanting to start their families. Dr Doug Wright, clinical spokesman for Norwich Union Healthcare, said that men were evidently wrong to assume that women were the only ones likely to be infertile. He added: 'With the next generation facing increasing pressure as a result of declining fertility and mortality rates, it's only fair that men accept their responsibility in the equation'.