Study shows poor health for millennials

Ioannis Pashakis, BridgeTower Media//July 3, 2019

Study shows poor health for millennials

Ioannis Pashakis, BridgeTower Media//July 3, 2019

Compared to the generation that came before them, millennials are more likely to be depressed, suffer from type 2 diabetes and abuse illicit substances.

That was the conclusion of a report analyzing data collected by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association on the 55 million millennials insured by its members nationwide.

Those members, including Pittsburgh-based Highmark Blue Shield, are sharing the results with millennials in an effort to gather more information on the causes of poor health.

“With millennials on track to become the largest generation in the near future, it’s critical that they’re taking their health maintenance seriously,” said Dr. Vincent Nelson, vice president of medical affairs for the Chicago-based Association for 36 Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers.

However, the report showed millennials are less likely to have a primary care physician, with 68 percent of millennials having a physician compared to 91 percent of Gen X-ers at a similar age. The data was taken from millennials aged 34 to 36 in 2017 and from Gen Xers at the same age in 2014. Millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996, while Generation X extends from the mid-1960s to 1980.

The Association is holding listening sessions across the country, with Highmark Blue Shield hosting the sessions in Pennsylvania. Independence Blue Cross hosted a session in Philadelphia in April and Highmark hosted a second this week at Highmark’s office in Cumberland County.

Highmark is looking to host more sessions in the coming months but has not announced where those will be.

About 25 millennials of various ages attended the Cumberland County event to talk about their relationship with health care. The attendees had mixed views on a number of topics, including telemedicine, with some millennials liking the ability to confer with a doctor through a video call, while others found it didn’t offer the same results as an in-person meeting.

Attendees also discussed the state of millennial health.

Marknoll Palisoc, 30, suggested that the high prevalence of major depression and substance use disorder could stem from a mix of millennials feeling more comfortable asking for help and of stress due to outside influences like social media.

“People are probably more open nowadays to come forward and seek help from a mental health professional. We actually see them more now, it’s more talked about,” Palisoc said. “We are also in a generation where social media is a huge thing. You have this sense of being criticized all the time so maybe that is causing more stress.”

Most of the attendees agreed they made infrequent visits to their physicians, but they showed interest in online tools that ease the process of shopping for health care.

“I want a good shopping tool for the things that are commodities for health care like labs and imaging,” said Christy Frownfelter, a millennial and director of integrated provider partnerships for Highmark Health.

The findings of the listening sessions and the report are expected to be presented at an event at the end of the year that will focus on how the health system as a whole can tackle the problem.

“We will be convening stakeholders across the health care spectrum to discuss what we learned in these sessions and we will come together to change the trajectory we are seeing,” said Pankti Pathak, a manager of Health of America, the name for a series of reports created by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

The series relies on Blue Cross Blue Shield data to discover trends in health care, one being that millennials appeared to be less healthy than their generational predecessors.

“After seeing this trend from so many of our reports, we decided to take a deeper look into the population and what was going on,” Pathak said.

The report measured the prevalence of different health conditions among millennials and compared them to Gen-Xers. The report featured a list of the top 10 conditions that were most common among millenials.

Millennials had a higher prevalence than Gen-Xers  of the same age on eight of the 10 conditions, including: major depression (18 percent higher); substance-use disorder (12 percent higher); and type 2 diabetes (19 percent). The generations had the same prevalence for alcohol abuse.

In the Harrisburg-Carlisle metropolitan statistical area, a region defined by the U.S. Census as including Harrisburg, Carlisle, Lebanon and Hershey, millennial health was worse across the board.

Millennials in the region had a 44 percent higher  prevalence for major depression compared to their Gen X counterparts. They also had 12 percent higher prevalence for substance use disorders, 18 percent higher for alcohol use disorder and 26 percent higher for type 2 diabetes.

“With the analysis we found what the state of millennial health was,” Pathak said. “With the listening sessions we want to find why this is happening.”