Save our millennials: preventative health for Gens X and Y

The 511

Back in the 20th century, we called 411 for information. Today, information’s aplenty, so you’re looking for something more. The 511 includes: 

  • ~5 short paragraphs about medtech, biotech, or another medical or science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Health disparities in a meritocratic society

When French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu claimed, “Everything is social,” he was absolutely spot on. In the US, though, we foreground a different maxim: “Individual responsibility is a necessary fiction.” Who earns your grades, your place in the starting line-up, your salary at work? You do, of course. Still, the differential impact of the pandemic suggests that those who have been spared (so far) somehow earned it is absurd. Individual responsibility is an essential principle in a meritocratic society, even as a partial truth — although one that may be subject to new considerations, as more Americans consider the maxim of Joe Strummer: “the future is unwritten,” and therefore anything is possible, via collective will and individual initiative. Here I take up some points on a big report by Blue Cross Blue Shield from later 2019 on the long-term health prospects of Gen X and Gen Y (a.k.a. “millennials”) in lieu of the pandemic.

The key metrics of good health

This report made the news in January 2020 and, well, kinda got lost in the mix of other cross-generational health threats of the day. The key takeaways:

  • The focus: people born in the U.S. between 1981 and 1996 (21 to 36 years old in 2017), and on the 55M of the 73M of Gen Y that have commercial health insurance
  • 83% of millennials believe they are in good health, but only 68% have a primary care physician
  • Gen X is not terribly healthy, but it’s healthier than Gen Y (see the table below)

Most of these conditions can be managed: preventive medicine works for people in aggregate that take personal responsibility for their health:

“While millennials are a few percentage points more likely to opt in for text messages than email,” says Thurston, “they are 7 percent less likely to click through those text notifications than older coworkers.” Millennials are more likely to open emails than non-millennials, says Thurston. “But once they open those emails, millennials take action 4 percent less of the time,” she says. However, millennials who know they already have a chronic condition are more likely to engage.

Erin Thurston, director of member marketing, Independence Blue Cross (here)

The answer? TBD, it seems. Preventive medicine is typically covered by health insurance, but remains under-utilized. It does not, however, seem to involve another app.

Morality, health and what millennials want

Back to Bourdieu: morality, for sociologists, entails how a given society enforces its social rules, and how that enforcement binds us to that society. Gen Y morality, though, may pose serious health consequences to millennials.

“‘Everyone gets a trophy’ or ‘there are no strikeouts’ impedes the natural learning curve of dealing with failure and building resiliency. As a result, many millennials encounter difficulty tolerating stressful events, frustrating easily, and avoiding demands so as not to feel overwhelmed.”

Deborah Serani, professor at Adelphi University, author of “Living with Depression”

That’s heavy. Gen Y is amazing in so many ways, but if health maintenance is regarded as a demand to be avoided, that’s even heavier. Rough segue here: health adversity for Gen Y skews badly along gender lines. Millennial women will bear 20% more of this adversity than their male counterparts, via depression, type 2 diabetes, and other endocrine conditions.

Dr. Vincent Nelson, vice president of medical affairs for the BCBSA, reports on the prospect of “meeting millennials where they are” (another key principle of Gen Y morality), and identified the following conditions:

  • Millennials want access to their own health records and convenient care, including telemedicine
  • They don’t want another app to download
  • Millennials want to address behavioral health conditions via a holistic approach (mind+body)
  • Millennials are “much more comfortable in a friendly environment, which helps them trust providers to understand their culture, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual and gender identity”

What that friendly environment might look like, though, remains murky. Community health centers serve primarily the underinsured, but may soon find a way to attract insured millennials. Let’s hope so, for everyone’s sake. If these health trends persist, Gen Y vs. Gen X per-capita income could expand to 11%, along with higher rates of unemployment.

So apps are not the answer. Wearable technologies are not the answer. Will Americans as a whole — and millennials in particular — emerge in the post-pandemic era with a new appreciation for digital-free time and the art of conversation, even with healthcare providers? It is, as a recent Netflix documentary indicates, one of the key Social Dilemma(s) of our time.

5(1)1 — On moral injury as a chronic health condition

We have witnessed much tragedy over the past year. It has been historic, vast, overwhelming. Yes, we are resilient. But our souls are scarred.

Janine di Giovanni, in “On Moral Injury: Can a New Diagnosis Heal Our Souls?” Harper’s Magazine, August 2020
51(1) — In rotation: Ted Hawkins’ “Sorry You’re Sick”

It’s part of the magic of the blues, according to Albert Murray: it captures ennui and sets it free. Hawkins (1936 – 1995) faced real difficulties back in the day, but put it all together for Watch Your Step (1982), which secured a five-star review in Rolling Stone.

Here ya go. Haunting and invigorating. A perfect song for difficult days.

If you like this stuff, and you know someone interested in health, leadership, and music, all mixed up with a dash of humor, please spread the word.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). Let’s connect.

If you want to talk about a project with words, drop me a line over here.



Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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