Health Matters 12/27: Addressing millennial health

By Priyanka Singh, M.D.

Nearly 73 million people living in the United States are millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996.

And this year, that number is expected to surpass the number of Baby Boomers in the country, making the millennial generation the largest living adult generation in the nation.

From the rapid technological advances of their youth to the Great Recession of their early adulthood, millennials have been at the forefront of major societal shifts.

Consequently, these shifts have had a tangible impact on their health that is unique to this generation.

The Burnout Generation

According to a recently released study on millennial health trends by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, less than 50% of millennials surveyed think their mental health is good or excellent.

Often called the “burnout generation,” millennials suffer higher rates of depression, substance abuse and alcohol use than the previous generation, Generation X, according to the Blue Cross study.

Burnout is characterized by emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, and is caused by poorly managed stress. There are many factors that can contribute to burnout and other mental health concerns for millennials, from the dominance of social media in their lives to crippling student debt.

Numerous studies have shown a correlation between social media use and issues with self-esteem and depression. This is especially true for millennials, as they are vulnerable to the unrealistic expectations and fear of missing out (FOMO) that social networking sites stoke.

Additionally, during the Great Recession, the oldest millennials were relatively new to the workforce and the youngest were beginning to plan for higher education. Millennials graduating college found themselves entering a volatile job market with student loan debt that grew for each class. In fact, the average millennial had nearly $35,000 in outstanding student loans in 2018, according to credit rating agency, Experian.

Wired and Awake

The introduction of the smart phone has had a significant impact on the way we interact with the world around us. Although usage may vary depending on their age, millennials remain the first generation of Americans to embrace a digital existence fully, spending an average of six hours a day on their smartphones alone.

This rise in the use of technology brings with it some health concerns. Prolonged exposure to blue light from electronic devices causes eye strain, headaches and fatigue, and can impact quality of sleep. In fact, the artificial light of many devices can interrupt circadian rhythms making it difficult to fall asleep at night. At least one survey found that nearly 80% of millennials sleep with their phones at their bedside and wake up at least once a night to check them.

And though millennials may technically be sleeping for the recommended number of hours – seven to nine – the quality of their sleep is in question. Poor sleep can lead to myriad of health issues, including increased risk for cardiac disease and diabetes.

Seeking a Quick Solution

In contrast with older generations that valued forming a close, often life-long bond with one primary care physician or family doctor, millennials often prefer an immediate diagnosis and treatment that don’t require them to make an appointment in advance or spend time in a waiting room.

As the Blue Cross study notes, 67% of millennials see a doctor only when they are sick and/or in urgent need of care, and more than half say the current national health system does not meet their needs.

Further, more than a quarter of the millennial generation does not have a primary care physician, which indicates they are not seeking preventative care. This may have an affect on their immediate health and could also impact their long-term health and wellbeing.

Take Action Early

It’s advisable for members of every generation, including millennials, to seek out a primary care doctor to monitor their health and identify developing problems, such as rising blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar numbers. This can allow time for lifestyle changes before conditions worsen. Part of that process includes addressing any signs of depression and other emotional conditions.

Focusing on a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, exercise, proper sleep, not smoking and limiting alcohol, is key. And applying some of millennials’ tech-savvy skills in this respect can be helpful.

Millennials may arrive at a medical exam with a sense of what their healthcare needs are because they are comfortable doing research on preventative care and any symptoms they may have; however, professional confirmation of any medical concerns is essential.

Then they can work as a team with their physician to diagnose problems and develop a treatment plan and overall approach to maintaining good health.

Further, health and fitness-focused smart phone apps and online resources are often effective tools to helping manage health. F

or example, Penn Medicine Princeton Health’s MyPennMedicine app enables patients to manage appointments, access medical information, request prescription refills and contact providers. This access may be beneficial for millennials to help them feel more committed and connected to their health in a way that suits their lifestyle.

Whatever tools they choose, taking control of their health and being proactive to prevent disease are two of the most important things millennials can do to ensure a healthy future.

To find a physician with Penn Medicine Princeton Health call 888-742-7496 or visit

Priyanka Singh, M.D., is a member of the Medical Staff of Penn Medicine Princeton Health.