With access to greater connectivity, more knowledge, medical advancements and primary healthcare in general, as well as being more actively engaged in health and wellness overall, it’s logical to assume that the millennial generation is the healthiest yet.
However, as the first generation predicted to be less financially prosperous than their parents, millennials may also be less healthy. We look at the disturbing health trends that are developing as a result as well as the reasons for these.
Millennial health risks
Mental health issues
Mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are prevalent in millennials, with the youngest of among generation most severely affected1. Anxiety is so common that millennials are even dubbed ‘the anxious generation’.
A number of life stressors are due to the rise in mental health issues amongst this generation. These include but are not limited to:
- Economic and financial stressors: This is the first generation that is predicted to be less prosperous than their parents2. This is largely attributed to the challenges brought about by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 and the resulting sharp increases in unemployment rates, house prices with tighter lending rates, student debt and income inequality3. Having grown up considering things like owning houses, access to higher education and the improvement of generation-on-generation prosperity a ‘normal’ part of life for the majority, finding that attaining these things in the current environment is far more challenging, is extremely stressful and even depressing for many. In addition, many millennials are better educated than their parents, but earn less, adding to financial and life stress in general.
- Technology: While technology has many amazing benefits and millennials will be the first to admit it, it is also a source of stress and anxiety for many in this generation. Focus is difficult to achieve because there is constant interruption. Millennials want a healthy work-life balance but achieving this is easier said than done. This is because young adults never really leave work, it comes with them thanks to phones and tablets which are always around and ‘constant checking’ has become a way of life. Watching e-mails that need to be answered flood in ‘after hours’ and on weekends and seeing co-workers or superiors responding can be a huge source of stress and anxiety. In addition, things are changing at a more rapid pace, lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres are becoming increasing blurred and increasing competition in the job market as well as the threat of certain occupations becoming obsolete due to technological advancement is a reality.
- Social Media and internet use: Part of always being ‘plugged in’ and ‘connected’ means increased access to social media and what others are saying and doing 24/7. There’s constant comparison which breeds competitiveness and FOMO in watching other people’s seemingly perfect lives unfold online, both of which cause insecurity, low self-esteem, and ultimately anxiety and depression in many. In addition, some millennials, even though they are more ‘connected’ to people in a digital sense, report feeling socially alienated and lonely, which contribute to a variety of adverse health outcomes4.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s report, binge drinking is most common amongst those in the 18 to 34 categories. This has the potential for disastrous consequences, many of which are directly related to adverse health outcomes for millennials and the children born to binge drinkers . Studies show a definite increase in alcohol related liver disease (cirrhosis) deaths in the 25 to 34 year old age group5, as well as a trend in diagnosing increasing numbers of young people with alcohol related disorders and liver damage6.
The reasons behind excessive alcohol use are not always as obvious as one may think. Millennials are not just drinking because they are young and having fun, instead alcohol is being used as a tool to cope with stress7.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
The CDC reports that STD rates have increased annually since 2013, with 2017 seeing the highest records to date. 63% of these cases are diagnosed in the 15 – 24 age groups8. Considering that many sexually transmitted infections do not cause symptoms and therefore go undetected and untreated, the numbers could be significantly higher.
According to research, millennials are reportedly waiting longer to engage in sexual intercourse, and are having less sex, with fewer partners than previous generations9,10, in addition, they also have access to medical advancements and STD testing (with at home STD test options also available), yet STDs are still on the rise.
Experts do not have all the answers to why and theories abound, the most common are that millennials are more concerned with preventing pregnancy than STDs, HIV is no longer a death sentence, so people are less worried about it, this generation is more accepting of gay relationships (men who have sex with men account for the majority of new infection cases) and finally, even though information is available, poor sex education and a lack of knowledge about the risks of bacterial STDs plays a role.
Regardless of the reasons why STDs are on the rise, if left undiagnosed, these types of infections can cause a myriad of health issues including blindness, infertility, pregnancy-related complications and reproductive system cancers, amongst others.
Medical research shows an increase in hypertension (high blood pressure) amongst young adults. It is estimated that approximately 19% of young adults are suffering from this condition. This is of great concern because, when left untreated, high blood pressure can cause heart attacks and strokes11.
Other findings support this, with research indicating a marked 43.8% increase of ischemic stroke in those aged 25 to 44 years old12. Ischemic stroke occurs when a blockage cuts off blood supply to the brain, often resulting in devastating consequences or death.
Other lifestyle factors that may contribute to higher stroke risks are high cholesterol and obesity, which are also increasingly common in this generation13.
While overall cancer rates are on the decline, reported cases in millennials are on the rise with an increase in 6 of the 12 obesity-related cancers, namely colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer in young adults14. This is largely attributed to increasing obesity rates in this age group.
Contributing factors to disease development
While the aforementioned conditions are alarming emerging health trends in the millennial generation and some have unavoidable reasons for their development, many are preventable, yet two significant millennial characteristics are compounding their effects.
A different approach to healthcare
The millennial generation has become accustomed to ‘on demand’ technology and services. Their approach to healthcare is no different15.
The ageing healthcare systems and traditional solutions that are in place in most countries are not efficient enough to keep up with the millennial approach. While this is slowly changing with the introduction of retail clinics and medically practices hiring nurse practitioners to help speed up waiting times, the provision of service is still not at the level to meet millennial demands.
Instead, Google, social media support groups and health forums are used to do research and find the answers.
While Googling and connecting can be an effective approach to diagnosing and possibly even treating certain basic health conditions and aiding in overall health and wellness, sources of information have to be medically accurate and reliable, which many aren’t. When consulting non-medically reviewed sources, the user’s knowledge of human anatomy, medicine and clinical trials also needs to be sound enough to discern the difference between factual and non-factual information, which it often isn’t.
This can lead to assumptions and the drawing of conclusions that are not always accurate and result in decisions being made that are not always in the best interest of one’s health.
Fewer doctor's visits and preventative screening appointments
Marketing surveys16 show that this seemingly wellness conscious generation make very few doctor’s visits annually, with half of respondents saying that they visited a doctor once or less each year. 93% admitted to not undergoing preventative care visits and of those that did make healthcare appointments, 42% admitted to cancelling if these conflicted with other priorities.
Financial reasons, convenience and the general belief that they were healthy were cited as being the major reason for the lack of visits and preventative care.
While the reasons behind the lack of preventative-care are legitimate, the lack of such care has important implications for long-term health as many of the top risk factors leading to illness and early death are preventable.
Advancements in medical technology and healthcare are making amazing strides. Increasingly millennials have access to walk-in retail clinics and telemedicine services which not only reduce waiting times and the overall burden on the healthcare system, but also reduce costs. There is also greater access to cheaper, reliable self-testing options (for things like STDs, fertility, pregnancy) and apps to track health. All of which offer the time efficiency and cost-reductions important to millennials.
However, these do still have their limitations at present, and as most in the medical profession agree, half of a doctor’s work involves physical examination, and probably always will.
It is therefore of vital importance that millennials be aware of the health risks they face and take active measures to ‘unplug’ when necessary to seek the appropriate preventative care and where necessary, treatment to ensure that they live to ages older than previous generations.
1. Scheffler R, Arnold D, Qazi H et al. The Anxious Generation: Causes And Consequences Of Anxiety Disorder Among Young Americans. California: Berkeley Institute for the Future of Young Americans; 2018:1-4. https://gspp.berkeley.edu/assets/uploads/page/Policy_Brief_Final_071618.pdf. Accessed March 8, 2019.
2. Corlett A. Intergenerational Commission Report. Resolution Foundation; 2017:7-8. https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2017/02/IC-intra-gen.pdf. Accessed March 8, 2019.
3. Group Editorial Office. Prosperous Times Still Ahead for Millennials. Credit Suisse. https://www.credit-suisse.com/corporate/en/articles/news-and-expertise/prosperous-times-still-ahead-for-millennials-201804.html. Published 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019.
4. Matthews T, Danese A, Caspi A et al. Lonely young adults in modern Britain: findings from an epidemiological cohort study. Psychol Med. 2018;49(02):268-277. doi:10.1017/s0033291718000788
5. Tapper E, Parikh N. Mortality due to cirrhosis and liver cancer in the United States, 1999-2016: observational study. BMJ. 2018:k2817.doi:10.1136/bmj.k2817
6. Millennials and Alcohol: More Young People are Drinking to the Point of Liver Damage. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/millennials-and-alcohol-more-young-people-are-drinking-to-the-point-of-liver-damage/. Published 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019.
7. STRESS IN AMERICA™ - Paying With Our Health. American Psychological Association; 2015:5-8. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf. Accessed March 8, 2019.
8. Press Release 2018 STD Prevention Conference | 2018 | Newsroom | NCHHSTP | CDC. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2018/press-release-2018-std-prevention-conference.html. Published 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019.
9. DePaulo B. 7 Reasons Why Young People Are Having Less Sex. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201811/7-reasons-why-young-people-are-having-less-sex. Published 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019.
10. Domonell K. STDs Are on the Rise and It’s Not Because Millennials Are the Worst. Right as Rain by UW Medicine. https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/life/sex/stds-are-rise-and-its-not-because-millennials-are-worst. Published 2017. Accessed March 8, 2019.
11. Study shows 19 percent of young adults have high blood pressure. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/study-shows-19-percent-young-adults-have-high-blood-pressure. Published 2011. Accessed March 8, 2019.
12. Béjot Y, Delpont B, Giroud M. Rising Stroke Incidence in Young Adults: More Epidemiological Evidence, More Questions to Be Answered. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016;5(5). doi:10.1161/jaha.116.003661
13. George M, Tong X, Bowman B. Prevalence of Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Strokes in Younger Adults. JAMA Neurol. 2017;74(6):695. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.0020
14. Sung H, Siegel R, Rosenberg P, Jemal A. Emerging cancer trends among young adults in the USA: analysis of a population-based cancer registry. The Lancet Public Health. 2019;4(3):e137-e147.doi:10.1016/s2468-2667(18)30267-6
15. Why Millennials View Healthcare Differently | UIC Health Informatics. Health Informatics Online Masters | Nursing & Medical Degrees. https://healthinformatics.uic.edu/blog/5-ways-millennials-view-healthcare-differently. Accessed March 8, 2019.
16. A New Picture of Health | Millennial Marketing. Millennial Marketing. http://www.millennialmarketing.com/research-paper/a-new-picture-of-health/. Accessed March 8, 2019.