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Health benchmarks declining across generations

Young adults eating fast food
Generations X and Y are less healthy overall than their parents and grandparents were at the same ages, a recent study found. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Despite the fact that they are still young, members of Generations X and Y are showing “alarming” declines in measurements of their health compared to that of their parents and grandparents at the same ages, according to new research from The Ohio State University.

Scientists there used data from the National Center for Health Statistics to conduct side-by-side comparisons between Baby Boomers during their younger years and current members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Generation Y (also called Millennials, born between 1981 and 1999 for this analysis). Those comparisons showed poorer physical health, more unhealthy behaviors such as heavy alcohol use, and increased levels of depression and anxiety among the latter two groups, who are now between the ages of 22 and 40.

“The worsening health profiles we found in Gen X and Gen Y is alarming,” said Hui Zheng, a professor of sociology at Ohio State. “If we don’t find a way to slow this trend, we are potentially going to see an expansion of morbidity and mortality rates in the United States as these generations get older.”

To quantify physical health between the generations, Zheng’s team used eight markers of metabolic syndrome – a group of risk factors for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes. They also compared levels of chronic inflammation.

In addition to the measures of physical health that have worsened from the Baby Boomer generation through Generation Y, they also found that rates of reported anxiety and depression have increased, particularly among white Americans, for every generation from the post-WWII period through Generation Y. Unhealthy behaviors, in particular heavy alcohol use, have also increased across generations, especially for males born during and after the latter part of Generation X. Drug use has increased among certain segments of the younger generations as well.

“Our results suggest that without effective policy interventions, these disturbing trends won’t be temporary, but a battle we’ll have to continue to fight,” Zheng said.

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