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Published on February 04, 2020

A young generation’s health is failing

Millennial Heart Health

Millennials may be in for some challenging health issues as they age, according to a new report.

“They are among the least healthy generations,” said cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, of the Cape Cod Healthcare Cardiovascular Center in Hyannis.

People born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s have been labelled the “millennials”; definitions of precise beginning and ending birth years vary. They follow Generation X, whose members were born in the 1960s to about 1980.

Blue Cross Blue Shield released a report late last April that showed dramatic increases in the prevalence of several health conditions affecting millennials. Comparing data from 2014 and 2017, the rates per 100 rose substantially for:

  • Major depression, 31 percent increase.
  • Hyperactivity, 29 percent increase.
  • Type II diabetes, 22 percent increase.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure), 16 percent increase.
  • High cholesterol, 12 percent increase.

“The Health of Millennials” report found that while, taken as a whole, the generation was living at 95 percent of what BCBS determined as “optimal health,” older millennials had higher rates of illness than Generation X members did at the same age of 34-36 years. Millennials had 21 percent more cardiovascular illness and 15 percent more endocrine conditions, such as diabetes, than Gen Xers at the same age. The report stated millennials’ health starts a “major decline” at age 27.

BCBS, in partnership with Moody’s Analytics, issued a subsequent report, “The Economic Consequences of Millennial Health,” in early November of last year. It predicted that if the millennial trend of earlier health decline continues, it will hurt the economy and increase both healthcare demand and costs.

Lifestyle Choices

Lifestyle choices – poor diet and not enough exercise – are to blame for much of the physical health concerns that plague millennials, such as obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure, said Dr. Thompson. It used to be rare to see high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes among young people, but no longer.

“You don’t have to be old to be sick -you can be old and well and you can also be young and sick,” she said. “Primarily these are diseases of lifestyle.”

She faulted habits of eating out or getting takeout meals too often, and eating too much salt, animal protein, and animal fat. The result is malnutrition, she said, which, in the millennials’ case, is “a disease of affluence.”

That is also the good news, she said, as lifestyles can be improved.

“I think they need to think about what they’re putting in their mouths,” Dr. Thompson said. “You can reverse heart disease.”

To improve your health (at any age) Dr. Thompson suggests these dietary habits:

  • Limit eating out to once a week.
  • Substitute bean dishes for bread and pasta.
  • Eat a meatless meal once or twice a week.
  • Learn how to cook, especially vegetables.
  • Read product labels; buy foods that are less processed and be an informed consumer.

Beware of product marketing promoting “healthy” highly-processed items, such as fast-food hamburgers that resemble meat but don’t contain any, such as the Impossible Burger, which does contain a fair amount of sodium, Dr. Thompson said. A four-ounce soy-based Impossible Burger contains 580 mgs of sodium, according to Business Insider.

She noted that both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend eating either a whole-food plant-based diet or a Mediterranean-style diet that put less emphasis on red meat and more on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry and non-tropical (no coconut or palm) oils.

“An important side note: many millennials are concerned about climate change,” Dr. Thompson said. “One of the major contributors is the livestock industry – raising pigs and cows (and the methane gas they release, among other things) is very destructive to the environment.” By eating less red meat, millennials can improve their health and that of the Earth, she said.