Younger People Aren't as Invincible as They May Think

Related topics: COVID-19 Resources
March 31, 2020

Younger People Aren't as Invincible as They May Think

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By Tobias Barker, MD

It's just common sense to believe that the younger you are, the healthier you are. But that's not to say that anyone – no matter what age – is entirely invincible.

The current COVID-19 health pandemic confirms what medical professionals have long known – that even young adults are vulnerable to many of the same health risks as the elderly (although their level of risk may differ). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last week that up to 20 percent of people being hospitalized in the U.S. due to COVID-19  are between the ages of 20 and 44. Obviously, the risk to those over the age of 60 and those with underlying health problems is still the greatest, but this 20 percent figure likely surprises many younger people who may have mistakenly believed they were largely immune.

This youthful confidence has many advantages in life, but when it comes to health, it may lead to ignoring things that should be addressed. This is likely a prime reason why so few millennials (officially described as people between the ages of 18 and 34) see a doctor regularly to prevent or manage minor as well as major health problems. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation confirmed that this age group is the most likely to not have a primary care doctor and visits a doctor's office less frequently than virtually any other age group.

There are many theories as to why younger adults don't proactively interact with our healthcare system beyond just relatively good health and youthful confidence. First, uninsured rates are higher for this group as these young adults start dropping off their parents' health insurance plans. Although the Affordable Care Act remedied part of the problem, healthcare insurance remains out of reach for a percentage of young people. And second, personal health is simply not a priority when balanced against all the other challenges of being a young adult, including college education, career advancement, building a family and the onset of wealth accumulation.

The reality is, beginning in one's 20s, there are very real health concerns to consider and which could be easily managed through primary care intervention. For example, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety very often begin to show up in the 20s. As a result of significant life transitions and the burgeoning financial challenges of college and adulthood, stress sometimes leads to risky health behaviors involving sexual activity, driving habits and substance abuse. It is also common for this age group to neglect attention to proper diet and exercise and then began to see these effects compromise their sense of wellbeing.

From a physician perspective, we are well aware that health risks begin to escalate shortly after people age out of their teens. If neglected, these factors commonly manifest as chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and even cancers in individuals in their 30s or 40s. So if you're young and think there is no reason to think about your health quite yet, think again.

The good news is that many of the common chronic health conditions are preventable with proper attention, screening and lifestyle adjustments. With proper medical care and education, it's possible to avoid or postpone such problems as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. The first step is to understand your risks and be ready to proactively manage them. We encourage even young, healthy adolescents and adults to schedule an annual comprehensive personal evaluation (CPE) with your Paladina Health provider. Appointments can be made online via the patient portal or by calling your clinic. You’ll be glad you did!

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