An independent UK charity, The Health Foundation, published early findings this week of a two-year study into the future health of young people.  The study will continue over the next year, conducting further field research across the UK. The aim is to finish the inquiry in 2019 with a series of policy recommendations.

Published last Monday, the study suggests Millennials could be the first generation to be less healthy than their parents by the time they reach middle age.

The report says, “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.”

“Young people enter middle age without the fundamentals needed for a healthy life,” it added.

The problems facing a generation of young people now in their 20s and 30s are created by lack of affordable housing, financial hardship, employment and relationship difficulties.  The researchers felt these were the most prevalent reasons affecting young people today and looked at how it impacts overall mental ill health.

They noted unstable unemployment (such as zero-hours contracts) or overcrowded housing (such as rented house shares) can increase stress and mental ill health. This in turn can fuel lifestyle-related diseases such as cancer and heart disease, as lower living standards trigger “unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and alcohol consumption”.

The report also suggests social media – something our parents never had to contend with – is having a negative impact on both our sleeping patterns and our self-esteem.

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.

In a poll of 2,000 people between the ages of 22 and 26 about the extent to which they had these assets growing up, less than 50% reported having each form of support.

Jo Bibby, the foundation’s director of health, said in a statement. “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. 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.”

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 also looked at the factors surrounding employment. As trends in the job market have changed, seeing more zero hour contracts and the so called ‘gig’ economy, with many college graduates having to resort to non-graduate positions, the report showed that more than half of the respondents had trouble finding “secure paid work” An absence of quality work was more likely to contribute to unhealthy behaviours 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.

Morag Henderson, a sociologist at the UCL (University College London) Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which was not involved in the study said, “Young adults are facing more stressful conditions than older generations, such as an increasingly competitive labour 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.”

Henderson’s research focuses on the health of millennials, including the impact of zero-hour contracts. She went on to say,
“Having a zero-hours contract and being unemployed were associated with poorer self-assessed general health, even after taking into account individual and behavioural 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’s study also makes significant mention of the housing conditions for many millennials. It says, “Millennials are also more likely to live in overcrowded conditions. There is a link between overcrowding and mental ill health as a result of stress, tension, family break-ups, anxiety and depression, and chaotic and disturbed sleeping arrangements.”

“This shift away from ownership has been significant and fast. It is also expensive,” it says.

Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) spend almost a quarter (23%) of their income on housing, highlighting an increase from the 17% spent by baby boomers (born between 1954 and 1964) at the same age.