Vegan diets, yoga, Pilates, meditation, spinning, hiking, biking, indoor wall climbing.
You might be tempted to think that America’s nearly 73 million millennials have a lock on healthy living.
However, your assumption might be wrong.
A new study concludes that millennials may be even less healthy than Gen Xers, the generation before them.
And their health starts to decline at an earlier age.
Researchers for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association analyzed data from health insurance claims for 55 million millennials, who were ages 21 to 36 in 2017 when the study was done.
Based on the insurer’s optimal health index of 100, the study found that the average score for millennials was about 95.
But researchers also discovered that older millennials ages 34 to 36 had higher rates for 10 top health conditions than Generation X members had when they were the same age.
Health conditions such as depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and substance use were among those considered.
Among the other takeaways:
- Overall health for millennials begins to decline at age 27, which is earlier than expected.
- Millennial women are 20 percent less healthy than their male counterparts.
- Millennials are more affected by behavioral health conditions than physical.
- Millennials in southern states, such as Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana, and Mississippi, are the least healthy. Millennials in western states, such as Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada, are among the healthiest.
Some of the findings even surprised the researchers.
“While it’s well-known in the health community that we’re seeing higher rates of depression in this generation, I found it surprising to see an increase in physical conditions, such as hypertension, especially since you don’t expect to see those kind of heart conditions in this age group,” Dr. Vincent Nelson, vice president of medical affairs for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, told Healthline.
“There are certainly some things here that in my mind ring true,” Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Healthline.
“Hypertension and diabetes track with the obesity epidemic, which is getting worse. So, there are certainly some things here that definitely correlate with what our general sense is overall with health, including depression” he added.
Benjamin noted there are some limitations to the research.
“These are people who are insured, so you can’t say this is representative of all millennials” he said. “But within the insured population and the data set they have, it’s an interesting correlation.”
“I would love to see how this compares to the entire population” he added.
Dr. Aaron J. Friedberg, an assistant professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, sees an ominous trend.
“I think this report reflects an approaching reality that due to increased illness, future generations could for the first time in recent history to be less healthy than those that preceded them,” Friedberg told Healthline.
“Long term, this means not only shorter lifespans but less time spent in good health,” he added.
The report says part of the problem is a lack of preventative care.
“A lot of these physical conditions are heightened by obesity, which leads to long-term health problems, such as hypertension and diabetes,” Nelson said.
Only 68 percent of the millennials studied had a primary care practitioner. That’s compared to 91 percent for Generation X.
“For example, many millennials might not always think they need to get their blood pressure checked, but it could make a difference in their health and their behaviors” Nelson said.
Benjamin noted that we know that the millennials analyzed have health insurance, but we don’t know what kind of jobs they have.
“Many of these kids are living in the ‘gig economy.’ Some have done quite well for themselves, but there is a whole population living paycheck to paycheck, job to job” Benjamin said. “Some can’t meet the deductibles and co-pays so they don’t go see the doctor.”
“This study is important because it identifies the issue while there is still time to do something about it,” Nelson said. “We recommend millennials take a more proactive role.”
Among other things, Benjamin recommended millennials get screened for hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol levels.
“In many cases, it’s a matter of getting back down to ideal body weight,” he said. “Get more physically active, don’t use tobacco.”
“If you’re feeling depressed, having difficulty coping, get help. Talk to a friend, family member, or talk to your doctor,” he added. “We know that behavioral change can make a big difference. And it doesn’t take a long time to get the health benefits.”