While millennials are hella health conscious and practice self-care on the regular, a major new report found that millennials are actually less healthy than previous generations. A new report from insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield found that a significant health decline begins at 27, and older millennials, ages 34-36, are less healthy than Gen Xers were at the same age. The top health conditions millennials face, according to the study, include major depression and other mental health issues, substance, tobacco and alcohol use, hyperactivity, hypertension, high cholesterol, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and type 2 diabetes. The analysis looked at 55 million millennials with insurance, meaning that these results are indicative of what happens when people *do* have access to healthcare.
Even among this insured cohort, only 68% of millennials have a primary care physician,versus 91% of Gen Xers. "Based on these findings, we’re seeing that millennials are not seeking preventative care and it’s not only having an effect on their immediate health, but will significantly impact their long-term health as well," Dr. Vincent Nelson, vice president, Medical Affairs for BCBSA, said in a press release. In addition, millennial women were found to be 20% less healthy than millennials men, in part due to experiencing higher rates of major depression, type 2 diabetes, and endocrine conditions.
Sanford Health, one of the largest health systems in the U.S., reported on its website that a majority of millennials consider health and wellness a top priority. "Wellness is a daily, active pursuit for millennials. They are eating healthier and exercising more than previous generations. They smoke less. Almost half consider healthy eating a lifestyle choice as opposed to a goal-driven diet." If this is the case, why is millennial health declining faster than that of previous generations?
A number of factors contribute to millennials experiencing more health problems sooner. From chronic loneliness and stress-related illnesses to heart disease and cancer, more millennials are grappling with serious health problems in their 20s and 30s. The reasons why illuminate a systemic societal problem. A 2018 UK study from The Health Foundation cited stress from low wages, lack of job opportunities, unstable living situations, and lack of overall security as a major contributor to these health issues.
"As well as spending more of their income on housing than previous generations, millennials are also more likely to live in overcrowded conditions," the study reported. "There is a link between overcrowding and mental ill health as a result of stress, tension, family break-ups, anxiety and depression, and chaotic and disturbed sleeping arrangements."
The struggle is real. While I've been mostly lucky in the roommate department, I have friends who have had terrible experiences that caused them significant psychological distress. In addition to having to live with roommates longer, sometimes well into your 30s, millennials also reported feeling pressured to keep up appearances on social media while also trying to maintain relationships IRL. Despite maintaining the social-media façade, a majority of millennials in the UK study said that they did not have a solid support system and lacked financial stability, both of which can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression. These psychological conditions can also manifest as physical health problems.
Aside from stress, lack of access to health care is an issue for millennials. Because millennials are the side-hustle generation, they're less likely to have insurance through their jobs. Many people have to buy plans with high deductibles, which means fewer trips to the doctor. CNBC reported that in 2016, 11% of millennials didn't have any form of health insurance at all. Depending on where you live, buying health insurance via the Affordable Care Act can be expensive.
Hector De La Torre, executive director of the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, told CNBC that millennials are more likely to turn to vitamins, seek medical advice from family or friends, or just skip medical care altogether. "That’s how [millennials have] been coping currently," he said. "Short of getting insurance, I don’t see how that changes."
Overall, this new data highlights that millennials aren't set up for success when it comes to their health, and this is a problem with no immediate solution. In the meantime, if you do have a solid insurance plan, take advantage of it. If you don't, there are plenty of health apps that offer low-cost consultations with a doctor. And while it's easier said than done, it's important to find ways to reduce stress and make taking care of your mental health a top priority.