Generation X, millennials less healthy than previous generations

By Amy Norton
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY, March 25, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Medicine may have grown in leaps and bounds over the past century, but millennials and millennials are less healthy than their parents and grandparents at their age.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that looked at physical markers and Mental Health through the generations.

And overall, there has been a descent over time: Gen Xers and Millennials were in worse shape when it comes to various measures of physical health. They also reported more anxiety and symptoms of depression, excessive alcohol and drug use.

The results unfortunately come as no surprise, according to Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer for the nonprofit Well Being Trust, in Oakland, Calif.

“Studies like this corroborate what we know,” said Miller, who was not involved in the research.

Recent years have seen a well-documented national increase in deaths from suicide, drug abuse and excessive alcohol consumption, which some experts have called “death in despair”.


These deaths accelerated during and after the 2008 recession, and little has changed since, Miller said.

Generation X generally refers to Americans born between 1965 and 1980, while Generation Y (or Generation Y) generally includes people born between 1981 and the mid-1990s. In this study, the range was 1981 to 1999.

In general, both generations were worse off when it comes to “physiological deregulation,” which includes issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, excess abdominal fat, and substances in the blood suggesting that the body is inactive. is in a state of chronic inflammation.

Signs of physiological deregulation began to increase with the baby boomer generation – compared to people born before 1946 – and continued to worsen from there, the study’s authors said.

Physiological deregulation is considered a precursor to various chronic diseases and a risk factor for premature death, said study leader Hui Zheng, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University in Columbus.

An obvious potential suspect is obesity. And Zheng’s analysis suggested that rising obesity rates partly explained the deteriorating trend in physical health, but not all.


Zheng said no study could get to the root of such a complex problem. But it’s already clear that the solutions must go beyond telling Americans to eat better and exercise more.

“The decline in health among the younger generations is not just an individual problem, but rather a societal problem,” Zheng said. “Society must change the [obesity-promoting] environment, reduce inequalities and improve job security for the younger generations. “

Miller made the same argument.

“If you just mark obesity as the problem, you will never get to the heart of the problem,” he said. “It’s a social problem, it’s an economic problem.”

The results, recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, are based on data from more than 688,000 Americans who took part in either of two long-running government health studies.

When it comes to lifestyle habits, binge drinking has become more common starting in Generation X, especially among white men and women and black men. Drug abuse, meanwhile, peaked in the baby boomer generation, before declining and then resuming at the “end” of Generation X (those born between 1973 and 1980).


Mental health has shown a similar decline, at least among white Americans.

Depression and anxiety were assessed by asking participants about symptoms from the past month. In general, Zheng’s team found that both conditions were becoming increasingly common among white adults, starting with baby boomers.

Among black and Hispanic Americans, however, rates of depression and anxiety flattened from the baby boomers, even as measures of physical health continued to decline.

The discovery was surprising, Zheng said, and there is no obvious explanation.

Miller said it could be related to the limited ways in which depression and anxiety were being assessed. He also noted that research has shown an increase in the rate of suicidal behavior among black teens in recent years.

All of the trends seen in this study – worsening drug addiction and physical and mental health – could have common roots, as they’re all interrelated, according to Miller.

Job insecurity, worries about paying rent and food on the table, loneliness and isolation, lack of affordable health care and systemic racism could all be factors.


“These are fundamentally structural issues,” Miller said. “If you give people a job with a living wage, it will have a profound impact on their physical and mental health.”

This raises the question of how the pandemic and its economic and social fallout will ultimately affect the well-being of several generations.

In a study last year, the Well Being Trust projected that the United States could see an additional 75,000 deaths from hopelessness linked to the pandemic.

More information

The Well Being Trust has mental health resources.

SOURCES: Hui Zheng, PhD, associate professor, sociology, Ohio State University, Columbus; Benjamin Miller, PsyD, chief strategy officer, Well Being Trust, Oakland, CA; American Journal of Epidemiology, March 18, 2021, online

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