WOMEN who woke to headlines at the crack of dawn yesterday might have felt the day had started well. According to medical evidence, female larks – up at first light, half the day’s tasks ticked off by elevenses – are 40 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer. Those lie-abeds, better known as owls, who come awake when people like me are starting to wonder where we put our slippers, are by comparison more at risk of the dread disease.

However, it wasn’t all good news for the early birds. Larks who sleep more than the prescribed seven to eight hours reduce their advantage. Thus the medical authorities give with one hand and take with the other. They also baffle, and alarm. The doctor questioned on air about these results said it opens a new line of inquiry, but it’s too early to suggest people should change their habits or adjust their circadian clocks. So why, you might ask, was this research the top news item on BBC radio, websites and in the papers that morning? If the findings could yet be overturned by further investigation that might find underlying factors that have nothing to do with when we wake, then why bother us with it?

It’s because medical information about women sells. You could see it as the latest in a long history of oppression, seemingly helpful advice used as a Trojan horse for getting behind our defences and undermining us. Once, we were told we weren’t as bright as men, and were incapable of doing their jobs. Since that has been proved nonsense, we are now being reminded, weekly and even daily, of our physical vulnerability. For certain publications, both digital and old-style, profits lie in scaring the life out of us. One can just picture their editors, dreaming of the day when they can roll sex and phoney health concern into one: “Push-up bras cause lung cancer”, “Bikini blamed for blood clot”.

Reading the newspaper front to back, once one of life’s great pleasures, is now an emotional minefield, as is every foray online. Barely a day goes past without us being warmed of the fresh direction from which doom is hurtling our way. Alcohol, fatty food, smoking are like the three Rs – we learnt that lesson ages ago. But that doesn’t stop us being bombarded with updates and provisos. Ten years ago, who had heard of Prosecco teeth and the harm bubbles do to tooth enamel? Is this a man’s problem? Of course not. From checklists of symptoms for “hidden” killers such as heart disease and cervical cancer, or risk analysis for autoimmune disease, depression, or the perils of high heels and unprotected sex, magazines and news providers are dedicated to medical stories that keep us perpetually anxious.

Do men ever get ill? Advances in treatment for the woes to which they are most prone, or of lifestyles that increase their chances of succumbing, are rarely front page. Only Alzheimer’s bucks the trend, a bogey with which to terrify all genders equally. Yet even here, females come off worse. If a wife has reduced her chance of this affliction by exercising, eating like a rabbit, and conquering sudoko, her chance of getting it is nevertheless higher than her couch-potato, footie-mad husband, since she has a longer lifespan.

The real reason why so much is made of health statistics that affect the reprehensibly feebler sex is that women listen to what they are told. We worry. When every glass of wine is potentially a step closer to the surgeon’s table, we take note. When we learn that we are almost as likely to be afflicted by heart attacks and strokes as men, we lap it up. We pay attention to the stuff aimed at us and our children or grandchildren, and act as a mobile pharmacy or clinic, always up to speed on the latest findings.

You might think this medical barrage were more than enough to handle, but no. We are also expected to act as custodians of our menfolk’s well-being. Hence posters in women’s toilets telling us to urge someone to go to their GP if they display symptoms of prostate cancer, or suicidal depression or dementia. I can’t speak with certainty, but it seems unlikely that men’s cubicles reciprocate with notices about post-partum or mental problems that women are too embarrassed to talk about. Or offer information on children’s vaccination and its importance.

Eavesdrop on a group of men and it’s like the banter on Match of the Day. Listening to women, on the other hand, is to be plunged into an episode of Casualty. Is this an atavistic habit, a maternal, safeguarding instinct hardwired in us all? Or have we been subtly programmed to respond? After all, as the leaves fall from the NHS’s money tree, it needs citizen paramedics to fill the vacuum. The more of us whose antennae pick up health bulletins, the more useful medical detectorists are at large in the community, providing an early warning system. Undoubtedly we are tuned to a different frequency: not the weaker half, but the worrier.