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The health status of millennial men

It's not looking great.

In 2019, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association sounded the alarm External Site on millennial health — noting that the generation that now makes up 50 percent (soon to be 75 percent) of your workforce is plagued by a number of health conditions that affect not just their quality of life, but also their productivity on the job and your health care costs.

Because millennials (and men in particular) consider themselves to, generally, be in good health, they don’t really consider how their actions today can lead them down a road of potentially devastating health conditions later on.

Though the research shows that millennial women are 20 percent less healthy than their male counterparts, it’s important to focus on the health issues that your younger male employees are likely facing — so that you can help them course-correct and enjoy a better quality of life as they age.

Here’s what you need to know.

Men face different health challenges than women

Gender is one of the best ways to predict overall health and longevity, and unfortunately, men aren’t doing so hot. Chromosomes, genes, and hormones make men more susceptible to some of the same health challenges that women face, as well as at risk for male-specific conditions like testicular and prostate cancers External Site (the latter of which is the most common cancer and second leading cause of death for American men).

According to Harvard Health Publishing External Site, men experience more chronic illness than women, become sick earlier in life, and have shorter life expectancies. In addition, they are:

  • Four times more likely to get gout External Site
  • Twice as likely to suffer from emphysema
  • Three times more likely to develop kidney stones or bladder cancer
  • Five times more likely to have aortic aneurysms
  • Three times more likely to die by suicide External Site

Then, there are the health challenges directly or indirectly caused by lifestyle choices. In general, men eat a less healthy diet than women and don’t come close to reaching the recommended amount of regular exercise to benefit their health — which may be why more than 60 percent of American men External Site are overweight or obese. Even the way that men carry extra weight is a concern: while women tend to add weight to their lower body, men add it to their waist — which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Men also smoke and drink more than women. In 2019, 15 percent of men External Site over 18 smoked cigarettes. Men are also almost two times more likely External Site to binge drink than women — on average consuming eight beverages five times a month — which increases instances of risky behavior and also the likelihood of developing cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) External Site.

Finally, men tend to struggle more with the stigma surrounding mental health External Site. Though millennials, in general, are breaking down barriers when it comes to being vocal about their mental health, men are far less likely External Site to talk about their feelings and emotions, which they feel makes them vulnerable. According to Mental Health America External Site, at least six million men in the United States suffer from depression each year, but their symptoms are much harder to recognize and they are less likely than women to seek out formal support.

What’s the root cause of these health disparities?

According to the Men’s Health Network External Site, men’s lack of awareness and unhealthy personal lifestyles are part of what’s to blame for the steady deterioration of their well-being. In addition, research from a professor at Boston College External Site in Massachusetts shows three main reasons:

  1. The way men are socialized to be “tough” and “manly” goes against the idea of teaching them how to be healthy.
  2. Men see other men engaging in risky behaviors and think it’s normal, so they start doing it themselves.
  3. Society has several barriers for men seeking to improve their health — namely, appointment availability during the day and the stigma of missing work to attend appointments.

Men approach their health differently than women

In addition to being predisposed to some health conditions and leading lifestyles that increase the risk of others, men also take a different approach to their health than women do.

A survey from the Cleveland Clinic External Site found that only three in five men get annual physicals, more than 40 percent of men only go to the doctor when they think they have a serious health concern, and more than half of men reported their health just wasn’t something they discussed. And, according to the CDC, 13 percent of men External Site under the age of 65 don’t have any health insurance coverage.

So, why aren’t men going to the doctor and prioritizing their health? They tend to make three main excuses Opens in a new window: that they don’t have time, it’s too expensive, or they think they’re healthy and don’t need to go. One in five men also admit to avoiding the doctor External Site because they’re worried about finding something seriously wrong with their health.

In reality, all this is doing is creating more health risks: men who skip tests and treatments, play down symptoms, and ignore medical advice are setting themselves up for a lifetime of chronic health issues.

Improving men’s health through lifestyle changes

In order to start reversing this negative health trend and improving their quality of life, men need to seriously think about adopting some major lifestyle changes. This includes avoiding all forms of tobacco, eating better, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, reducing stress, prioritizing mental health and, above all, going to the doctor regularly.

So, what role do you — their employer — play in this? We have a few ideas.

  1. Prioritize preventive care.

    Because men tend to avoid going to the doctor unless they absolutely have to, make it as easy as possible for them to get their annual checkup. You can set up an on-site clinic where they can get important health numbers in 15 minutes or less or offer paid time off to take care of medical appointments. You can also remind them to get age-appropriate preventive care screenings by putting up this free poster PDF File in high-traffic areas throughout your office.
  2. Consider normalizing mental health days.

    Avoid the cost of employee burnout by making it more acceptable to take days off when employees are experiencing stress or other mental health struggles.
  3. Provide healthy snacks and water.

    Encourage healthier snacking throughout the day by loading up vending machines with healthier options like almonds, dried fruit, and energy bars instead of chips and candy. Set out a bowl of fruit in the afternoon to stave off the afternoon slump and don’t let the water cooler go ignored.
  4. Set a good example.

    Don’t just say you’re all in on employee health: be an example of optimal health External Site — you’d be surprised at how influential a manager's behavior can be for employees. Take a walk in the middle of the day, share that you’re working out over your lunch break, pack a healthy lunch, and set boundaries to help reduce burnout (looking at you, 11 p.m. emails!)

Want to learn more about your millennial employees?

Millennials currently make up 50 percent of your workforce, and by 2025, they will make up 75 percent of your employee population. This generation comes into the workplace with a desire to succeed and make a lasting impact, but they are plagued with several health conditions.

Notably, millennials with a behavioral health condition (depression, anxiety, hyperactivity) are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a chronic physical condition such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease.

Bottom line, when your employees aren’t healthy, health care costs will continue to rise, and productivity will decrease.

When you download your free copy of the Millennials In Your Workplace e-book Opens in a new window, you can take advantage of extensive research, in-house data and subject matter expertise to help create sustainable, long-term changes in your workplace today.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at Send Email.