Health. It’s a small word that packs a big punch. The dictionary definition of health is: “the state of being free from illness or injury.”
But how do you achieve that state in a time when healthcare seems out of reach to so many? Those who are under-insured often avoid the doctor due to costly out-of-pocket expenses, and the uninsured are just one illness away from potential bankruptcy. It seems like health has taken on a more expansive meaning in the past several decades, as well as gotten more complicated.
Millennials, who are America’s largest generation at about 83 million, are taking a broader view when it comes to their health. They often opt for preventative choices to help keep them healthier long-term, which is a far cry from older populations who typically view regular doctor appointments as the key to good health.
“Since the turn of the century a focus on disease care has allowed the increase in our longevity from the mid-30s to nearly 80 years old,” said Dr. Vonda Wright, founder and CEO of Women’s Health Conversations. “Living long, however, does not always mean living well as nearly 68% of our population are obese and battling chronic disease both physically and mentally.”
The way Millennials relate to the healthcare system is a drastic shift from their parents in the baby boomer generation and even from Generation X. It’s time to rethink what healthcare means and how we relate to this system.
It’s not that Millennials are trying to avoid the doctor’s office, but longer wait times in offices, lack of convenient locations and fear of big bills have driven healthcare out of the traditional spaces and have turned the lens inward. In fact, surveys suggest that 54% of millennials have delayed or avoided medical treatment due to costs. As a result, prevention has become the new procedure.
“I believe the time is now to make a pivot from disease care to truly well care with a focus on prevention – never getting sick in the first place,” Dr. Wright said.
Instead of waiting for something to go wrong, this generation’s philosophy has become,“What can I do to stay healthy?” Dr. Wright has found that this mantra particularly rings true with many millennial women, who consider their mental health just as important as their physical wellbeing.
Stress, anxiety and depression are higher in this age group than in previous generations. Pressures from social media, stagnant wages combined with student loan debt and shifting parenting styles have changed the health behaviors of young women. Acupuncturists, therapists, yoga classes, green juices and meditation are popular choices to combat these stressors.
“We know that more than 33 chronic diseases are directly impacted by mobility and smart nutrition,” Dr. Wright said. “In order to pivot the health of this country, I believe that we empower women, who make 80% of the healthcare decisions in this country, while focusing on well-being via sidewalks, Tesla, and fifth grade girls.”
In this case, Dr. Wright views sidewalks as pathways for building health into planned communities and rethinking our urban areas to eliminate food and health deserts. The Tesla, she added, represents scientist Nikola Tesla, who predicted that technology would provide access to healthcare that was previously reserved for those who lived near organized hospitals or were wealthy. Digital devices, like cell phones and iPads, puts healthcare at your fingertips, from young girls to women of all ages.
“We can change the health of this country in one generation by educating our children,” she said. “We can teach them about sustainable health and as they grow. They can truly develop a lifestyle of well-being and not disease management.”