Global Health

American millennials are unhealthier than ever

And it could be hurting life expectancy. Image: Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Hillary Hoffower
Journalist, Business Insider
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Health?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Global Health is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Health

  • Without proper management or treatment, millennials could see a 40% uptick in mortality compared with Gen Xers of the same age, the report found
  • Behavioral health is a key factor in the decline of millennials' health; the generation has seen rises in depression rates and in "deaths of despair"
  • The financial burdens millennials are facing can not only affect their mental health, but prevent them from seeking treatment at a time when healthcare costs are climbing

American millennials aren't exactly the picture of health.

They're seeing their physical and mental health decline at a faster rate than Gen X did as they age, a new Blue Cross Blue Shield report found.

Have you read?

The report used a baseline projection representing historical outcomes of "health shocks" and an adverse projection of current trends. It's possible this decline could be rectified with proper management and treatment, but without intervention, millennials could see a 40% increase in mortality compared with Gen Xers of the same age, the adverse projection showed.

Image: Bluecross

In this scenario, millennials could end up shelling out a third more in treatment costs than Gen Xers of the same age, because of a greater need for treatment and rising healthcare costs.

Healthcare is one of four key costs plaguing millennials. In 1960, the average annual cost of healthcare per person was $146 — in 2016, it hit $10,345. When adjusted for inflation, that's a ninefold increase. Costs are expected to further increase to $14,944 in 2023.

Poorer health could also make millennials less likely to participate in the US labor market, resulting in higher unemployment and a loss of annual income by more than $4,500 per person, the Blue Cross report said.

The report attributed this millennial health decline to both physical conditions, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, and behavioral health — particularly rises in rates of depression, hyperactivity (such as anxiety or ADHD), and substance abuse.

Rises in depression and 'deaths of despair'

The report found that rates of depression and hyperactivity among American millennials increased by about 30% from 2014 to 2017.

These findings are underscored by previous reports that analyzed data from Blue Cross Blue Shield's Health Index. One found that major-depression diagnoses were rising at a faster rate for millennials and teens than they were for any other age group.

There has also been a rise in accidental deaths, which overall make up a larger share of mortality among millennials than they did for Gen Xers at the same age, the latest Blue Cross report found. It's worth noting that accidental deaths from heroin and other opioid overdoses specifically have increased by 1,400% among all generations from 2010 to 2017.

A report by the public-health groups Trust for America's Health and Well Being Trust yielded similar findings earlier this year. It found that more millennials were dying "deaths of despair," or deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide, Jamie Ducharme reported for Time in June.

While these deaths have increased across all age groups in the past 10 years, they've increased the most among younger Americans, accounting for the deaths of about 36,000 American millennials in 2017 alone, the report said. Drug overdoses were the most common cause of death.

Millennials struggle to afford the help they need

There are several reasons for the upticks in "deaths of despair," according to the Trust for America's Health and Well Being Trust report. Young adults are more inclined to engage in risk-taking behaviors, represent the highest percentage of enrolled military personnel, and disproportionately live in "high-stress environments" like correctional facilities.

But there are other structural factors at play, the report said — namely the myriad financial problems millennials are facing, like student-loan debt, healthcare, childcare, and an expensive housing market.

This affordability crisis has become so bad that some millennials can't afford treatment. One in five millennials diagnosed with major depression doesn't seek treatment, a Blue Cross report published earlier this year found, and it's likely because they can't afford to do so.

It's a vicious cycle: Money struggles aren't only hurting millennials' health, but preventing them from seeking help for those very issues.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7 free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as the best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global HealthMental Health
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Promoting healthy habit formation is key to improving public health. Here's why

Adrian Gore

April 15, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum