This is the best-educated generation in Spain’s history (51 percent have university or higher education degrees), the first digital native generation and the one that has forever changed the way people work and interact in a global, digitized world. Thanks to the Millennials and Health study, the so-called millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1993) is the one which is the most aware of the importance of, and actively engaged in, their own health care.

TEXT: RAMÓN OLIVER IMAGES: ISTOCK

In Spain the demographic group known as millennials consists of 8.2 million individuals (17.6 percent of the population). An online survey conducted with a random sample of 1,600 individuals from the 20 to 35 age group served as the basis for the research undertaken by the firm Salvetti Llombart, market study specialists, for Fundación MAPFRE. One of the initial conclusions of their study is that, in stark contrast to what happened in previous generations, today’s youngsters do include health on their list of priorities. “There is an ever-increasing concern for health matters. We see it in the media, on the street, on the news… Healthy eating or exercise are trendy and there is a growing consensus that alcohol consumption or smoking is not something to be approved,” according to Antonio Guzmán, manager of the Health Promotion Area at Fundación MAPFRE.

This research reveals that happiness is one of the main motivations for this generation (two out of three millennials say they are happy) and, in that pursuit of happiness, health is a key element. However, theirs is a concept of health in which the emotional factor is just as important – if not more – as the physical or mental aspects. In that regard, 91 percent of those surveyed declare that, mentally, they are fine; 86 percent say they are physically healthy, and 85 percent, likewise, on the emotional front.

This three-dimensional view of health held by the millennials is precisely one of the characteristics that make this generation different from every previous one. “For the baby boomers, health was a purely physical question, and their health care consisted in curing any ailments they might suffer. Generation X added a new mental or cognitive perspective to that dimension. The current generation extends this further to three dimensions: physical, mental and emotional,” explains Victor Morte, a Salvetti Llombart executive and one of those responsible for the study.

Prevention is one of the leading healthcare issues for this age group, given that the symptoms of a possible illness are not always immediately visible. “The habits that we adopt today will affect our health in the future,” Antonio Guzmán stresses. “Smoking, for example, can have consequences that are only visible in the long term, with the gradual appearance of respiratory insufficiency or more serious illnesses such as cancer. Therefore, while young people may believe they have ironclad health, the sooner they start looking after themselves, the better,” is his advice.

Significant Differences

The study shows that the millennial generation has fully taken on board healthy habits, with a clear focus on a wholesome diet and physical activity, but attaching growing importance to factors such as getting sufficient sleep or emotional well-being. Nonetheless, there are significant differences within the group, depending on their age or sex. Victor Morte notes that concern for their health grows as they get older.

“Those aged between 30 and 35 attach greater importance to this question than those in the 20-25 age group.” In gender terms, the principal differences are apparent in the approach adopted by men and women to their health care. “Women are more concerned about watching their diet and their rest, while men focus much more on incorporating physical activity and sport into their daily routines,” Morte points out.

72 percent of the millennials say they usually cook healthy meals, and 69 percent say they strive to stick to a wholesome, balanced diet. The reduction or elimination of fats and sugars from their diet is a priority for women, while men tend to rely more on protein-rich diets or the incorporation of nutritional supplements.

The emotional factor is just as important – if not more – as the physical or mental aspects in the millennial concept of health

For millennials, physical activity plays a major role in looking after their health. Two out of three of these youngsters practice sports two or three times a week. Jogging or going to the gym are two of their favorite activities. As for their motivations, watching their health, improving their physical appearance, and the recreational and socialization component are the three major reasons that encourage them to practice sports.

Luis Delgado, medical coordinator of the Medical Guidance Area at MAPFRE Spain, stresses that physical activity is an effective antidote to a large number of health problems. “It improves blood pressure and reduces cholesterol and blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It’s also an effective measure for reducing obesity and provides physical and mental wellbeing, thus reducing stress and anxiety levels,” he argues.

The Invisible Enemy

Emotional well-being is one of the major concerns for this segment of the population. 85 percent of respondents had suffered a mood disturbance at some stage, and three out of every ten tackled it unaided. Stress (54 percent of respondents admit having suffered an episode over the last year), despondency (44 percent) or anxiety (39 percent) are the greatest enemies of millennials, especially among women. “This generation is more prone to this kind of pathologies than their predecessors,” Dr. Delgado warns. Among the underlying reasons, this specialist points to factors such as “placing high demands on themselves, competitiveness, the imperious need for social acceptance and the constant frustration at not being able to cope with responsibilities that their parents were indeed able to handle at their age.” As a result, this medical professional concludes that, “there is tremendous psychological stress, low selfesteem, a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration that submerges these young people in a state of sadness.”

The frenetic pace of modern life does not help. “The lifestyle, particularly in large cities, where the demands of their work schedules are compounded by time spent commuting, makes it difficult to adopt healthy lifestyles. The key lies in making healthy choices and being careful about our habits every day, and that is totally possible with a little willpower and organization,” Antonio Guzmán remarks.

Digitized Health

Digitization can prove to be a powerful ally in this need for organization. Many young people say they use applications that help measure and regulate all kinds of health-related parameters: number of steps taken, calories ingested/consumed, exercise intensity, heart rate, wholesome recipes, etc. Technology is also leading to this generation having to manage a volume of information their predecessors did not have. In fact, they find themselves bombarded with an infinite number of messages encouraging them to follow healthy habits and warning them of the dangers of certain foods and practices.

Today’s young people are undoubtedly better informed – and are more aware – of the need to take care of their health. But they do so without getting obsessed about it. After all, they are still youngsters. “There’s a great deal of awareness about exercise and nutrition. They know the consequences of transgressing those good habits and how to limit those exceptions. As regards other habits such as smoking, acute alcohol consumption, sufficient sleep or sexually transmitted diseases, there is probably still room for improvement,” Antonio Guzmán observes.

This research reveals that happiness is one of the main motivations for this generation (two out of three millennials say they are happy) and, in that pursuit of happiness, health is a key element

As for Victor Morte, he believes that there is something contradictory about this generation. “On the one hand, they are aware of the benefits of taking care of yourself, but also that socializing and fun is very important in this concept of health as overall well-being. So they often take care of themselves, eating healthily and sleeping well Monday through Thursday, but then, when the weekend comes, they go out partying and allow themselves some excess.”

For that reason, Antonio Guzmán stresses, it is very important to not let down our guard and target this population group directly with specific awareness messages. “It seems that most campaigns target the elderly or those in their forties, which is when the first signs of chronic health problems most often raise their head. But, precisely, if we wish to foster prevention, we must strive to make young people aware of the tremendous individual and social importance of taking care of our own health. In this regard, new leisure models such as gaming could hamper the adoption of good habits. We must be imaginative and try to reach out to the youngsters through their own channels.”

Are millennials concerned about their health?

While all the millennials surveyed show some concern about leading a healthy life, the study segments them into those from less to more concerned about health matters. Whether or not they do anything about this is what differentiates them: the Relaxed are the ones who put healthy habits into practice the least; and, at the other extreme, the Conscious are the ones most concerned about their health and well-being.

Relaxed
This is the segment of the generation least concerned about their health. The ones who watch their diet, practice sports or adopt healthy habits the least. 6 of every 10 are male.

Half-Hearted
While they are concerned about health, it is more a question of following those around them, rather than pure conviction. In fact, they keep a low profile as regards sports practice or watching their diet.

Concious
This is the segment of the millennials clearly interested in their health and well-being from every point of view, although there is some diversity within this group regarding the motivations that make them look after themselves.