Millennials in the UK are on track to be the first generation to be less healthy than their parents by the time they reach middle age, a new report suggests.
The Health Foundation, an independent UK charity, published early findings of a two-year study into the future health of young people.
The study, published Monday, found that people now in their 20s and 30s are struggling with housing, employment and social relationships, which have the potential of greatly impacting their health in the years ahead.
“The gains made as a society in improving the health of previous generations may well be eroded by the precariousness and instability of the lives some young people are facing,” the report said.
“Young people enter middle age without the fundamentals needed for a healthy life,” it added.
The report links a lack of affordable housing and uncertain employment trends among the causes of long-term health problems.
Four assets for future health were identified in the report: emotional support, having the appropriate skills and qualifications to pursue a career, practical support and personal connections for guidance through life.
Among 2,000 people between the ages of 22 and 26 polled about the extent to which they had these assets growing up, less than 50% reported having each form of support.
“This new research demonstrates that many young people in the UK are not getting the support they need to make a smooth transition into adult life,” Jo Bibby, the foundation’s director of health, said in a statement. “This support is vital to securing the building blocks they need for a healthy future. Without it we are putting their future health at risk.”
Lacking the ‘building blocks’ of life
The report also identified essential “building blocks” needed for life, such as a safe home environment. But 64% of those surveyed described the housing market as “difficult” for young people.
It cited previous research that tied housing problems to subsequent stress, anxiety and depression.
Another factor detrimental to young people were the emerging trends surrounding employment — particularly those of zero-hour contracts (employment contracts where people are expected to work as needed), the so-called “gig” economy and a saturation of college graduates resorting to “non-graduate” positions.
More than half of the respondents said they had trouble finding “secure fairly paid work” that also offered “scope for career growth and development.”
The report said an absence of quality work was more likely to contribute to unhealthy behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption.
The study also highlighted relationships as being important to an individual’s health over their lifetime and how today’s young people are the first generation to navigate social situations in a digital environment as well as in person.
“Young adults are facing more stressful conditions than older generations, such as an increasingly competitive labor market, rising costs of housing, an increase in higher education costs, and issues of self-identity and confidence driven by more widespread use of social media,” said Morag Henderson, a sociologist at the UCL (University College London) Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which was not involved in the study.
Henderson’s research focuses on the health of millennials, including the impact of zero-hour contracts.
“Having a zero-hours contract and being unemployed were associated with poorer self-assessed general health, even after taking into account individual and behavioral characteristics,” she said. “This may be explained by the financial stress or the stress associated with having a low-status job and variable hours causing uncertainty which results in anxiety and depression.”
The Health Foundation will continue its inquiry over the next year by conducting further field research across the UK. Concurrently, a research program into young people’s health led by the Association of Young People’s Health and the UCL Institute of Child Health is also in progress. The Health Foundation charity hopes to conclude the inquiry with a series of policy recommendations in 2019.