Health of young adults may be on downward slope

March 3, 2009

The health of the younger adult has not improved over time, according to a new federal report.

The health of the younger adult hasn't improved over time, at least not in the last 15 years, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The 32nd annual report, "Health, United States, 2008," reviews current research gleaned from numerous health resources. It is the first time that the report is addressing the 18-to-29 age group (n=50,000,000), an "understudied" segment of the population, reports lead author Amy Bernstein.

Report findings include:

  • Nearly one third of young males smoke cigarettes; 25% binge drink (five-plus drinks on at least 12 occasions in one year).
  • Approximately 30% of young adults are without health insurance.
  • Obesity affects one third of this population; one third are classified as overweight.

Obesity in 2005 to '06 was measured at 24%, a percentage that has tripled in 30 years. On a better note, the number of young female smokers has dropped approximately 20% from 1997 to 2006. However, there was no notable drop in smoking among young men. In terms of drug use, more than 20% of 18- to 20-year-olds, and 14% of 26- to 29-year-olds, indicated they have used illegal drugs in the last month.

Leading causes for death in this group include: unintentional injuries, homicide, suicide, cancer, and heart disease. This age group also reportedly has the highest number of visits to the emergency department. Chronic health issues, such as depression, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, were relatively prevalent among this age group as well. From 1999 to 2004, nearly 9% of young adults age 20 to 29 were diagnosed with major depression, panic disorder or anxiety issues in the past 12 months.

The results somewhat mirror what was found in the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Survey, according to co-lead author John Schulenberg.

In a statement, he said, "Any gains we've been getting over the years with better adolescent health, we're not realizing in the 18-29 group."

Added Bernstein, "They're still smoking, still drinking, still taking illicit drugs and not exercising," she says. "Whatever we're doing, we're not getting through to this particular age group."

Although researchers note that the number of smokers and drinkers may remain low while the young adults are still in high school, the numbers appear to begin to climb as adults leave home.