Study: Millennials Less Healthy Than Gen Xers Were at Their Age

Every day, there seems to be another story about something millennials are killing: casual dining chains, napkins, diamonds, fabric softener. The diverse list continues to grow. And many of these casualties have their roots in the Great Recession and subsequent changes to financial and lifestyle priorities.

But what’s killing millennials? A new report on health trends from Blue Cross Blue Shield shows millennials might not be as healthy as they think they are. Here’s what it found.

Health trends in millennials

The report used survey results and data from the 2017 BCBS Health Index to determine health trends in U.S. millennials. For reference, millennials are those who were born between 1981 and 1996, according to Pew Research Center. And the BCBS report focused on the roughly 55 million commercially insured U.S. millennials.

The good news is the report found millennials were living at around 95 percent of their “optimal health” — meaning “a population’s potential lifespan, absent of disability and increased risk of death.” But the bad news is they were facing more health issues than members of Generation X were at their age — especially the older millennials (those who were age 34 to 36 back in 2017).

Here are some key findings from the report:

  • On average, the major decline in health for a person started at 27 years old.
  • 83 percent of millennials felt they were in good or excellent health.
  • 68 percent of millennials had a primary care physician.
  • Older millennials living in Western states and parts of the Midwest tended to be near their optimal health while older millennials living in most of the Northeast and South were less healthy.

So what about the health conditions impacting millennials? It turns out their rates have increased — some by pretty substantial numbers.

Health conditions affecting millennials

Doctor showing clipboard to millennial patient in medical officeCredit: Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

These were the top 10 health conditions affecting millennials back in 2017, which BCBS ranked by adverse health impact. “The adverse health impact of a condition is defined as the reduction in future healthy years due to the presence of the condition,” according to the report.

  1. Major depression
  2. Substance use disorder
  3. Alcohol use disorder
  4. Hypertension
  5. Hyperactivity
  6. Psychotic conditions
  7. Crohn’s disease/ulcerative colitis
  8. High cholesterol
  9. Tobacco use disorder
  10. Type 2 diabetes

Notably, six conditions on the list were behavioral, “affecting mental health and emotional well-being,” and four related to physical health, “affecting the cardiovascular, digestive and endocrine systems,” according to the report. “When compared to the national population, millennials were more affected by behavioral health conditions,” the report says.

For the general U.S. population up to age 64, hypertension was the top adverse-impact health condition — followed by major depression, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, between 2014 and 2017, millennials saw double-digit increases in the prevalence of eight out of these 10 health conditions. (The other two conditions saw slight increases.) Of those eight conditions, three had very substantial jumps. Cases of Type 2 diabetes in millennials increased by 22 percent, hyperactivity rose by 29 percent and major depression rose by a whopping 31 percent.

What’s more, millennial women were affected by these adverse-impact health conditions at a higher rate than millennial men. “This gap is mainly driven by major depression, Type 2 diabetes and other endocrine conditions,” the report says.

Millennial women had more than double the rates of major depression and Type 2 diabetes than millennial men in 2017. And for every six millennial men who fell in the “other endocrine conditions” category, there were 15.8 millennial women.

Some good news for millennial women is they had substantially lower rates of substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder and psychotic conditions than millennial men in 2017.

But how do millennials compare to those outside of their generation?

Millennials versus Generation X

Members of Generation X came just before millennials and right after baby boomers. They were born between 1965 and 1980.

To see how millennial health related to those in the previous generation, the BCBS report compared millennials who were age 34 to 36 in 2017 with Gen Xers who were in the same age group in 2014. And the millennials did not come out on top, especially for the prevalent adverse-impact health conditions.

“Millennials had 11% more total adverse health across these condition groupings than did Gen Xers when they were the same age,” according to the report. “This increase was driven by a 21% increase in cardiovascular conditions and a 15% increase in endocrine conditions, including diabetes. Behavioral health conditions explain about 40% of adverse health for both millennials and Gen Xers.”

Millennials had higher rates than Gen Xers for eight of the top 10 health conditions. Notably, millennials had an 18 percent higher rate of major depression, a 19 percent higher rate of Type 2 diabetes and a 37 percent higher rate of hyperactivity.

The only two health conditions in the top 10 for which millennials didn’t exceed Gen Xers were alcohol use disorder and psychotic conditions. And even then, their rates were roughly the same as the Gen Xers’ numbers.

So what does this all mean?

millennials at workCredit: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

This report highlights the fact that millennials are a generation that has faced several serious struggles. And they’re at an age when more health issues are becoming apparent.

“BCBS Health Index data underscores the urgency for the healthcare community to recognize that millennial Americans are experiencing double-digit increases in prevalence for eight of the top 10 health conditions,” according to the BCBS report. “Additionally, millennials had significantly higher prevalence rates than did their Gen X counterparts at the same age.”

This is an issue that affects everyone, regardless of generation. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and their continued health is essential to drive the economy. “The health status of millennials will likely have substantial effects on the American economy over the next two decades — including workplace productivity and healthcare costs,” the report says. And identifying millennial health trends is just the first step to keeping this generation strong for years to come.

Main image credit: FatCamera/Getty Images


Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara6 days ago

Seems like this relates to a very stupid generation.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara6 days ago

Alcohol related illnesses. Well obviously. How did they have the money to buy all the tobacco and alcohol and drugs? I never had enough money to buy any of these. Instead I bought my house.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara6 days ago

Tobacco related illnesses. Well obviously. Tell them to stop smoking. Why were they smoking in the first place? Did nobody tell them smoking was bad for them?

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara6 days ago

This report is very strange. A whole list of conditions brought on by poor choices. Drug disorder. Did nobody tell millennials drugs were bad for them? And some people want to legalise drugs?

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin8 days ago

a whole generation drowning in stress

Jeramie D
Jeramie D15 days ago


Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson15 days ago

very predictable. ty

Vincent T
William T15 days ago

Thanks for sharing

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn15 days ago


Danuta W
Danuta Watola15 days ago

thanks for sharing