If you have loved ones between the ages of 18 and 26 or you are involved in the health care field — or both — you might find the results of a new study as alarming as I do.
Last week, researchers from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council reported that Americans in that age range are having a harder time transitioning into adulthood than their predecessors did and that they are “surprisingly unhealthy.”
The study’s authors note that in previous generations the path to adulthood was fairly straightforward for most people — graduate from high school, go to college or get a job, leave home, get married and start a family.
Things are far less predictable for young adults today for three big reasons: the cost of college and the burden of college debt, a serious dearth of good-paying entry-level jobs, and the high cost of living independently.
Moreover, the researchers say, when it comes to their physical well-being, “the dominant pattern among young adults is declining health” — they eat poorly, smoke more, exercise less, use marijuana and other drugs, and binge drink.
OK, to me that doesn’t sound much different from the way previous groups behaved at that age, though I agree with the researchers that the stress of a bad job market, the nation’s economic malaise and the sedentary habits created by the use — or overuse — of electronic gadgets take an added physical and mental toll. And, it is true that these young Americans are, as the authors state, “at the forefront of the obesity epidemic.”
As distressing as this situation is for the individuals themselves, it doesn’t bode well for the nation as a whole, either. Given how quickly our senior population is growing, we need younger Americans to be healthy, productive citizens. The worrisome reality is that in 1950, the ratio of retirees to workers was 1-to-10; in 2000, it was 2-to-10; and by 2050, it is expected to be 4-to-10.
I’ve written before about “wraparound care” — the concept that a person’s well-being involves not only health care, but all the social, economic and environmental factors that affect his or her life. We all have to work together to make sure our young people develop healthful habits, that they complete high school and postsecondary programs, and that they attain the skills needed to thrive into adulthood.