Are millennials healthier than the baby boomers?

As millennials age, they will do so with access to revolutionary treatments and technologies developed to minimize the risk of disease and other health problems associated with aging. We are entering a new era in terms of diabetes care, with the US Food and Drug Administration having recently approved the world’s first artificial pancreas – a device that monitors blood sugar and supplies insulin automatically. There have been remarkable advancements in treatments for blood cancer patients in the past year, with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies now available at “high-end” cancer treatment facilities worldwide. People around the world can now walk into any hormone clinic, for example Fort Lauderdale’s Wellness MGT clinic, and undergo hormone replacement therapy to improve energy, stamina, quality of sleep, sex drive and performance, muscle building, as well as factors critical to health such as regulated blood pressure levels – a feat not achievable prior to 1975. Artificial intelligence programs are today transforming healthcare in the United States into quantifiable services where every necessary piece of information is available to every healthcare provider across the country. Driverless cars or trucks will soon include sensors capable of detecting health problems and the production of synthetic blood will no longer be a pipe dream for healthcare workers worldwide. The future is well and truly upon us and these medical breakthroughs will make it easier than ever for millennials to live a long and healthy life.

Millennials have been labelled the most “health conscious generation ever”, partly due to their unprecedented access to the incredible compendium of health information now readily available online via the internet. With the discovery of powerful “superfoods” like kale, chia seeds and cayenne pepper, it is now easier than ever to eat a healthy diet – and don’t Gen Y know it. Avid followers of ‘foody’ Instagram influencers, Gen Y have access to millions of easy-to-make superfood recipes at any given moment via the platform. According to data collected by The Halo Group, 65 percent of people born after 1975 regularly consult either a nutritionist, dietician (58%), or a personal trainer (54%) about their food choices. Another study showed that 9 out of 10 millennials consider healthy eating to be one of the pillars of wellness, so much so that 77 percent exclude from their diet whatever they believe could be harmful to their health. This is compared to a mere 12 percent of baby boomers. Millennial consumers also, it seems, value the ethical and ecological origins of food, followed by baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Z (under 17 year olds). The study revealed that people over the age of 65 don’t care about nutrition almost at all.

That being said, the lifestyle habits of millennials are worryingly detrimental to their health. The new age addiction to technology, which sees 87 percent of millennials using between two to three tech devices at least once a day, has led to an alarming increase in sedentary behavior. And millennial addiction to social media platforms is exacerbating the problem. Even in the workplace, it is now often mandatory to have a presence on social media networks such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, enabling users to reach potential customers and share content, achievements and milestones with others. But digital activities can quickly become unhealthy, seducing users into the world of cyber obsession resulting in the nasty habit of aimlessly trolling social media feeds – a habit that no longer stops once it hits 5pm. Social media trolling takes up a significant portion of a Millennial’s day to day life, until late at night in many cases.

Trends suggest this is having a serious impact upon Gen Y, making them less active and more obese than earlier generations. The proportion of young adults 18–29 years old who were obese more than tripled from 8 percent in 1971–1974 to 24 percent in 2003–2004, with nearly two-thirds of young millennials not taking sufficient time out from leisure activities to engage in physical activity each week.

This exposure to and dependence on gadgets also leads to negative effects on health such as sleep anxiety, night waking and condensed sleep duration, according to one study carried out by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The blue backlight emitted from many devices affects our melatonin levels, forcing our bodies to remain alert long after we have stopped looking at the device’s screen.

While we’re on the topic of screens and technology, let’s talk about Netflix.

Perhaps the most destructive habit of 21st century entertainment seekers, Netflix not only has the potential to sabotage ambition but also to cause higher stress, anxiety and depression in binge-watchers, studies have shown. If this is truly so, millennials are in a lot of trouble, with many often resorting to social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook to report feelings that resemble ‘post binge-watch depression’ once they have finished watching their favourite Netflix series. Americans today watch on average two hours and 49 minutes of television daily, with binge-watching rapidly changing the way people consume television. Such excessive television viewing has been shown to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, as well as fuel feelings of loneliness and depression. It can also impact vision and slow down metabolism, leading to weight gain and many other health problems associated with the digestive system.

Baby boomers had no such temptation. Rather, the ‘Greatest Generation’ were a generation of doers, not watchers, a generation that worked hard and made sacrifices to rebuild their countries following the destruction caused by the Great Depression and World War II. They grew up without modern conveniences such as refrigerators, air conditioning, rice cookers and television. Rather than take a political stance on Twitter, the baby boomers would take to the streets to protest. They did not grow up influenced by digital technology or rapid globalization – and health-wise, this was to their benefit. Takeaway meals or fast-food were not readily available to baby boomers throughout their teenage years or early twenties, so much so that in 1977 just under 38 percent of family food budgets were spent eating outside the home. Today, millennials alone spend 44 percent of their budget on eating out.

Baby Boomers lived through the Beatles, Woodstock, “Flower Power” and the Vietnam War, were the first generation to have access to immunization and antibiotics, and grew up in an environment of rapidly developing diagnostic technologies and surgical therapies. They smoked less, moved more, and valued personal growth, work and “making a difference”. But does that override the targeted technologies and opportunities to improve one’s health that is available to millennials today?

Millennials, despite their reputation for being egotistical, debt-burdened and lazy, are more dedicated than any other generation to establishing a work-life balance meaning they are investing in their health like never-before-seen and making lifestyle choices that prioritize mental and physical health. This, together with the growth in available organic goods, increased health knowledge, ability to stay on top of health trends via social media and an ever-growing increase in health services around the world, leads me to believe millennials will in fact be the healthiest generation yet, despite some worrying trends.

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