Millennials: The Unhealthiest Generation
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Are you healthier than your parents were at your age? It’s easy to assume yes- medical advances and increased access to healthy food have increased the average lifespan by nearly 10 years.
But shockingly, several new studies have reported that morbidity and mortality are increasing among late Generation X and Y in comparison to Baby Boomers. Gen X and Y are experiencing worsening physiological and mental health, which will cause serious problems for the US moving forward.
American Journal of Epidemiology study:
Researchers in the department of sociology at Ohio State University comprehensively analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The study, published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, evaluated the data from over 700,000 American adults.
The researchers used eight markers of metabolic syndrome to measure overall health. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, ad type 2 diabetes. These conditions include high blood pressure, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and high blood sugar. The researchers also used one marker of chronic inflammation, low urinary albumin, and one additional marker of renal function, creatine clearance.
The data showed that measures of physical health have decreased from the Baby Boomer generation through Gen Y or Millennials (1981-99) and Gen X (1965-80). This was true across all demographics, but white adults were especially affected by metabolic syndrome. While Black Americans, specifically men, saw increases in chronic inflammation.
Additionally, the results demonstrated that depression and anxiety have increased for each generation of whites from the War Babies (1943-54) through Gen Y. Health behavior has also declined for Gen X and Gen Y. Younger generations were more likely to abuse alcohol and smoke.
The results from this study are especially concerning when we consider future health trends for Americans. The data suggest the likelihood of higher levels of diseases and more deaths for younger generations than ever before. These levels will only continue to increase as Gen X and Y age.
Blue Cross Blue Sheild Study:
A study performed by Blue Cross Blue Shield demonstrated similar results, though they focused specifically on the health of Millennials (Gen Y). The researchers estimated that the mortality rates of Millennials could increase to 40% more than same-aged adults born in Gen Z. The researchers went so far as to call Millennials the unhealthiest generation.
Results of the study demonstrated that for Millennials, rates of depression have increased by 31%, rates of psychotic conditions increased by 15% and rates of substance use increased 10%. The study also reported that female millennials are significantly less healthy than their male counterparts. Gen Y women have an increased risk of major depression, Type 2 diabetes, and endocrine disorders.
For all Millennials and generations born after, the study found that depression, anxiety, and loneliness are all increasing.
A British study comparing the health of Gen X to people in Baby Boomers when they were in their 40s and 50s found that physical health has declined in younger generations. The study analyzed the health data of 135,000 Brits.
Researchers found that while those born in later generations are expected to live longer, they are also expected to have more years of ill health. Gen X saw increased rates of bad general health, chronic illness, and high blood pressure when compared to Baby Boomer. Later-born participants also showed a higher likelihood of diabetes, circulatory illnesses, hypertension, and obesity.
The data demonstrated that for people born between 1945 and 1980, there is a trend towards increased years spent in poor health. Some health conditions began at an earlier age than the previous generation.
The Harris Poll Study:
The Harris Poll conducted a study on the health of Millennials on behalf of CNBC. The researchers administered a survey to 4,000 Americans, 830 of whom were millennials aged 33 to 40. According to the data, 44% of older millennials report having been diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition. Migraine headaches, major depression, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and asthma were the three most common illnesses.
Why are younger generations less healthy?
While an easy answer to this question point to increased risks of smoking and obesity in younger generations, both were proven to not be the sole root of this downward trend. Smoking could not explain the mental health decline. Obesity could explain an increase in metabolic syndrome but not an increase in chronic inflammation.
One explanation for these puzzling trends in health could be increased exposure to environmental toxins. Toxic chemical production in the last 50 years has skyrocketed exponentially. At the same time, ADHD, autism, cancer, diabetes, and obesity have also increased dramatically, especially in younger generations. It is not absurd to credit increases in health conditions to an increasingly toxic world.
It is estimated that we come into contact with more than 70,000 toxic chemicals and substances every day. Many of which were not tested on humans, so the effects of which are unknown. The most researched and concerning environmental toxins are:
BPA’s and “BPA-free” alternatives like BPS and BPF
Mold and Mycotoxins
Pesticides like Glyphosate
These toxins are impossible to avoid, they are in our drinking water, the food we eat, the furniture we use, the air we breathe, and in personal care products.
Pesticides and herbicides are present in nearly every food product and have contaminated groundwater. Glyphosate, sprayed on most genetically modified crops, is the most sprayed and distributed chemical substance in human history. The toxin can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, consumed in food, and brought into your home through the dust of contaminated soil. Glyphosate is also the cancer-causing ingredient found in Round-up. Arsenic can easily be found in soil due to its use in pesticides and mining. The toxin easily accumulates in rice. Despite being banned in gasoline, lead can still be found in our soil.
The most concerning form of pollution in our fresh water and in oceans are mercury and microplastics. The harmful effects of mercury are widely known, the FDA has advised pregnant and nursing women and young children to avoid eating the four fish highest in mercury. Microplastics are less known, they are tiny pieces of plastic that can shed from plastic bottles and bags, synthetic fibers, and plastic fishing equipment. Microplastics are thought to be deposited in the gastrointestinal tract and transported to other organs.
According to a report by the American Lung Association, 4 in 10 Americans breathe unsafe air- that’s 14,000,000 Americans. This includes ambient air pollution (particles and gases emitted from our cars, household, and other human activities) and toxins in our homes. The chemicals most frequently found in our homes are VOCs, volatile organic chemicals that vaporize and become gases at room temperature. These chemicals are odorless and colorless, leaving you unaware until serious side effects such as birth defects, endocrine disruption, childhood leukemia, cancer, and developmental problems occur after continued exposure. Mold toxins and spores are present in 45% of American households. Mold can be extremely toxic and lead to 7,000,000 American deaths every year.
Food is a very significant source of environmental toxins. Heavy metals, pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, mycotoxins, and BPAs can all be found in the food you eat. Phthalates have been detected at abnormally high rates in fast food, likely due to leeching off the wrapping.
Effects of Toxins:
Toxins can affect virtually every part of your body. They can also be linked back to decreased health trends for younger generations. For example:
Obesity: Obesogens are a subset of toxins that research has suggested to contribute to obesity. Obesogens are endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with normal hormonal function. Most of these toxins activate estrogen receptors, which can lead to obesity in both men and women. Obesogens include BPA’s, phthalates, atrazine, organotins, and perfluorooctanoic acid. As described earlier BPAs and phthalates are found in most plastic items. Atrazine is an herbicide. Organotins are used as fungicides. Perfluorooctanoic acid is used in non-stick cookware.
High blood pressure: Mercury has been found to be toxic to the heart, and can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of a heart attack. High blood pressure has also been linked to exposure to air pollution. Specifically, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter were highlighted in the study. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are a product of burning fossil fuels. Particulate matter is particles found in the air, and includes dust, dirt, and smoke particles.
Diabetes and High Blood Sugar: Chemicals called diabetogens disrupt your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. Diabetogens cause dysfunction within the pancreas, which in turn affects insulin release and blood sugar control. Examples of diabetogens include BPAs, arsenic, pesticides, phthalates, and dioxins.
Depression and Anxiety: Studies have linked both anxiety and depression to increased exposure to environmental toxins. Scientists speculate that toxins can alter the brain in ways that lead to mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Such toxins include pesticides, heavy metals, and mold. To read more about the link between toxins and anxiety, click here.
We are living in a very toxic world and we can only assume this has caused younger generations, who grew up breathing, eating, and drinking toxins, to be less healthy than older generations. It is very important that we prioritize our health.
A great place to start is by scheduling an appointment at the Johnson Center. We can identify signs of toxin exposure and begin to help you to optimal health. Click here to schedule your complimentary 15-minute discovery call.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!