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The Millennial Takeover: Employee Health Implications and Workplace Benefits Opportunity

Millennials are the predominant age group in the U.S. workforce today, and their conscientiousness toward health and well-being is beginning to shape work culture in significant ways. However, millennials may not be as healthy as they appear – in fact, their health could be worse than their parents’, and they could be at a greater risk for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease as they age. Since the majority of one’s adult life is spent in the workplace, a unique opportunity exists for employers to implement employee well-being programs that appeal to millennials’ health-mindedness and propensity for action, and in doing so create a culture of health, achieve meaningful health outcomes, and lower healthcare costs.  

Taking Over the Workforce: Baby Boomers Out, Millennials In 

According to government data analyzed by the Pew Research Center, millennials (i.e. those born between 1981 and 1996) are quickly becoming the largest living generation in U.S. history. As more baby boomers are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce, millennials are swiftly taking their place. A recent Governance Studies at Brookings report suggests that by the year 2020, 1 in 3 adult Americans will be a millennial, making up half of the workforce and increasing to 75% of the workforce by 2025. 

Millennial Health: The Big Picture 

A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health Index report offered some concerning findings on millennial health. The report specifically focused on 55 million commercially insured individuals and found that 1 in 3 millennials had health conditions that reduced their quality of life and life expectancy, with overall health decline starting at age 27. Older millennials (age 34-36) were found to be less healthy than their Gen X counterparts were at the same age, with higher disease prevalence in 8 out of 10 of the studied conditions, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.   

Obesity and Obesity-Related Cancers Increasingly Affecting the Millennial Population 

Millennials are on track to become the most obese generation in history. Analysis on national data showed that in 2010, up to 1 in 3 children between 6-17 years of age were either overweight or obese, compared to an overweight rate of only 5.7% twenty-five years earlier. The study also suggested that, as millennials enter the workforce, this increasing prevalence of obesity may negatively impact their productivity and economic prosperity.  

While obesity in and of itself can be detrimental to health, it also puts one at a higher risk for developing other serious health complications, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Earlier this year, a study published in The Lancet Public Health by the American Cancer Society found that obesity-related cancer is on the rise among young adults and is being diagnosed at increasingly younger ages. According to the authors, millennials have doubled their risk for uterine, colorectal, and gallbladder cancers compared to baby boomers (currently aged 50-70) at the same age.  

Reversing the Trend 

With younger generations now facing health challenges at earlier ages than previous generations, monitoring and proactively engaging millennials in health promotion activities will be critical to improving their long-term health and well-being. The good news is that many of the health conditions mentioned above can be prevented and to an extent managed through lifestyle changes. In an earlier blog post, our experts discussed how losing 5% of one’s body weight through lifestyle interventions has been associated with clinically significant improvements in health. As the predominant demographic in the U.S. labor force is changing, a transformation in company culture and work environment will also be required. 

Opportunity for Employers 

The health of the millennial generation is likely to have a considerable impact on the U.S. economy in the coming decades through increased healthcare costs and a decrease in workplace productivity. As such, millennials’ health and well-being should be at the forefront of the conversation about how workplace benefits should evolve. Creating a culture of well-being in the workplace that appeals to millennials’ values and views on health will be important in attracting, engaging, and retaining this population. With the right lifestyle modification program that offers convenience, flexibility, and personalization, millennials are more likely to participate in preventative healthcare that will ultimately increase motivation, boost productivity, and result in a positive ROI for employers.   

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