So which gender has the best guide to hotter sex, tighter abs, and cancer prevention? We pitted Rodale's Men's Health, the major male-oriented health pub (although 16% of its circulation is female), against Time Inc.'s Health, which is totally targeted to women. (We could've gone with such powers of the women's general health field as the veteran Prevention, or relative newbie Women's Health, but both are also published by Rodale, and we wanted to make this a two-publisher contest.)
Here's how each mag stacks up.
Better orgasms department: Health, B; MH, A-. MH's pieces on sex are, not surprisingly, more graphic than Health's, with an attention to detail that could be helpful even to the most sophisticated guy. Take the very specific tips on foreplay and giving "her the best orgasm of her life" in May's "How To Be The Perfect Guy For Her." "Her Eyes Say Maybe, But Her Brain Says..." has the admirable goal of explaining how a woman's brain triggers sexual response. But despite the author's clear, entertaining style, all those anatomical details can be heavy going.
Health's more ladylike entry is a cute first-person piece about using tips from sex manuals, which breaks up the earnestness of the May issue with some welcome humor. Then there are the results of Health's sex survey, which the editors call surprising, but I call ho-hum. OK, except for some of the answers to "What's the craziest place you've had sex?" Gotta wonder why the couple getting it on at Disneyland wasn't put off by those giant rodents.
Lose 30 pounds in 10 days dept.: Health, B; MH, C. The challenge here is to provide a fresh angle on weight loss, that most-hackneyed topic -- the mainstay of not only general health books but all those fitness pubs as well.
MH's tips from "modern food science" -- like, the smaller the plate, the less you'll eat -- may not be front-page news, but at least they're being offered to a readership that isn't to the diet born. For most women, Health's suggestions to save calories by using mustard instead of mayo, and skipping cream and sugar in coffee, are laughably obvious.
More helpful -- and fresh: Health's feature on "former fat girls," which provides tips straight from former dieters themselves, and its roundup of new, healthful convenience foods.
Studies show 100% of leaves are green dept.: Health, B-; MH, C. Short items on scientific studies should provide cutting-edge info. Too often, they're merely fillers, the dregs of all health mags. MH rates lower in this category because it reports on even more studies with stupid conclusions. For example, "Women's desks harbor three to four times more germs than men's desks do," because women are more apt to keep food in their drawers.
Most useful info: Health gets extra credit for this category. Since heart disease runs in my family, I found the piece on women and heart attacks particularly relevant. I'm getting a stress test soon, and it was reassuring to read that this procedure can detect a precursor endemic to women's heart disease.
Features and writing quality: Health, B - ; MH, B+. I'd pick up MH first if it was sitting in my doc's waiting room, because it's usually a more entertaining read, with humor and a real voice -- even if it's a hey-buddy-we're-all-in-this-together tone that's very different from my female sensibilities. Its lead features can be too long, but they make scientific knowledge relevant and palatable. For example, the excellent piece on organ donation in the December issue not only moved me (it was framed around the death of the author's father) but taught me some facts, that I may someday, unfortunately, have to grapple with.
Health's lack of compelling angles on evergreen topics (in May, the benefits of deep breathing, and how to get more energy) means I can skim through an issue, put it down, and not remember a thing. Only two pieces in the May issue were memorable stylistically: the aforementioned sex manual article, and a breast cancer survivor's account of how she bared her implants to soothe the anxieties of a woman considering a double mastectomy.
Relationship Advice: Health, C-; Men's Health, B-. Both mags offer clichés in this area, though MH at least offers flashes of wit and insight. In Health's predictably boring world, even if "your husband left his wet towel on the bed -- again," you're advised to let it go and learn to focus on his good points.
But what if that slob took the "Will She Forgive You?" quiz in the December MH? I'd have a harder time saying "honey, that's OK," because writer Sarah Miller (a traitor to her gender) suggests that he tell some whoppers. (The photo of his lap dance at the bachelor party was just a photo-op to please the groom?)
Look of the books: Health, B; MH, B. Neither mag is gorgeous -- but not terrible, either. Both have some outstanding photos, especially Health's candid-looking mother and daughter shots illustrating the interviews in "What My Mother Taught Me."
Both covers are too cluttered, though -- and what the hell is the Health model on the May cover doing with that hand raised awkwardly behind her head? MH at least stands out on the newsstand with its black-and-white cover.
Bottom line: Both pubs provide some useful features. I'd rather read MH because its articles are more literate and memorable, but if you're a woman, Health occasionally comes through with some relevant specialized information.
Published by: Southern Progress Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Inc.
Published by: Rodale
Frequency: 10 times a year