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Younger generations are in poorer health than their parents when they were young

Researchers say the declining health of younger people is a ‘societal problem’ with complex roots

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Photo (c) Vadym Petrochenko - Getty Images
Gen Xers and millennials are in worse physical and mental health than prior generations at the same age, according to a new study from Ohio State University. Researchers say these consumers are facing higher risks for disease and death than their parents and grandparents because of unhealthy behaviors and several other potential root causes. 

The study authors found that younger generations -- in this study, those born between 1981 and 1999 -- have higher rates of alcohol use, smoking, obesity, depression, and anxiety. 

Markers of "physiological dysregulation” -- including problems like elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, excess belly fat, and substances in the blood -- were also prevalent among younger generations. The researchers said this suggests that there is a higher rate of chronic inflammation, which is a risk factor for earlier death. 

‘Societal problem’ 

For the study, lead author and OSU professor of sociology Hui Zheng and his colleagues examined health data pertaining to nearly 700,000 people. The data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1988-2016 and the National Health Interview Survey 1997-2018, both conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The research team believes that the declining physical and mental health of younger generations is a complex issue with more than one root. Zheng said the issue of worsening health profiles found in Gen X and Gen Y is “not just an individual problem, but more a societal problem.” 

"Society needs to change the [obesity-promoting] environment, reduce inequality and enhance job security for younger generations,” he stated, adding that researchers may not even be seeing the full impact of this “alarming” trend. 

“People in Gen X and Gen Y are still relatively young, so we may be underestimating their health problems,” Zheng said. “When they get older and chronic diseases become more prevalent, we’ll have a better view of their health status.”

The study has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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