Statcast Number 11 Transcript
Date: February 18, 2009
Publication: “Health, United States 2008”
Bernstein: People tend to think of this age group as very healthy, and it is true, they’re probably healthier than other adults. I think that just because they are less likely to get these things in many cases, doesn’t mean that they don’t have a need for medical care.
Announcer: Amy Bernstein is lead author of “Health, United States,” widely recognized as the federal government’s annual report card on the nation’s health. This edition of “Health US” has a special feature on the health of young adults ages 18-29. Amy, do young adults face many of the same health risks as adolescents?
Bernstein: I would say they face all of the same health risks as the adolescents and probably more, given that they now are pretty much on their own in a lot of cases. When they turn 18, they’re basically kicked off many public programs like the SCHIP program. They might not be covered by their parents’ health insurance any more. They can do things legally they weren’t allowed to do before, like buy cigarettes or enter into contracts or make their own medical decisions. And they’re not always quite ready to do that.
Announcer: So what is the biggest health challenge facing these young adults?
Bernstein: People tend to think of this age group as very healthy, and it is true, they’re probably healthier than other adults. They are young and strong and invincible—that’s what some people call them—the “young invincibles.” But they have the same preventive needs as everyone else. They need to get their teeth cleaned; women need to get gynecological checkups; men need to get checkups periodically, as much as anyone else does. About 9% of young adults aged 18 to 29 have a mental disorder such as major depression or anxiety disorder. Many of them have asthma; more and more of them are having other chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. They can get cancer. I think that just because they are less likely to get these things in many cases, doesn’t mean that they don’t have a need for medical care. In fact, 17% of them reported that there was medical care they needed and did not receive in the past year. So they do have health needs, and we shouldn’t forget that.
Announcer: Let’s talk about trends. Are there some areas where this age group has made improvements in recent years?
Bernstein: Not as many as we would hope. About 30% of men in this age group—young men let’s call them—still smoke cigarettes; it’s not like they don’t know they’re bad for them. There’s been a little bit of improvement among young women, who are somewhat less likely to smoke than in the past; but still about 20% of them smoke regularly. So that’s not necessarily a good thing. There has not been any particular improvement in binge drinking, which men in particular are want to do. They are not exercising any more than in the past. So I can’t say it looks all that helpful.
Announcer: What about obesity? Obesity increases have slowed in recent years. Is this also true for the 18-29 year age group?
Bernstein: As far as we can tell, it’s probably leveled off about the same as it has for other adults. However, it’s also tripled since the 70s. So this lack of exercise and things that are affecting pretty much all Americans are also a problem for this group.
Announcer: The report shows that young adults often lack health insurance coverage. But is it true that one reason for this is because they are essentially healthier than other age groups and therefore choose not to purchase insurance?
Bernstein: That could well be true. And that’s a problem because as we all know, young adults may not think ahead as much as older people who realize they are going to get these conditions do. So, by choosing not to be covered, this becomes a problem for two reasons. One is that this group is most likely to have unintentional injuries of any group, so if they end up in the hospital after crashing their motorcycle or whatever it is that they’ve done, they are uninsured, which is a problem for them as well as society. And also, as I said, many of them do have chronic conditions, and they are not immune to these things that require healthcare.
Announcer: Our thanks to Amy Bernstein for joining us on this edition of “Statcast.” “Statcast” is a production of the Public Affairs Office at the National Center for Health Statistics.