The low millennial obesity rate may largely be a function of age, but Gallup is optimistic about what it could indicate. “Obesity and smoking are two areas for which the change over time since 2008 - holding age constant - looks better for millennials than for older generations and age groups,” the report said. Gallup found millennials were the only age group to break trends in obesity, with a 0.6 percent decrease from 2008. Obesity rates for Gen Xers, boomers, and Traditionalists all rose.
“Look at what they’ve done over time. The millennials are managing to buck that trend. They’re keeping their obesity at a comparatively low level,” Witters said.
Dr. Hansa Bhargava, who worked with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and is now medical editor for WebMD, is less optimistic, citing research funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research that found it is harder for millennials to lose weight compared with other generations.
The September 2015 study, conducted by researchers at York University, compared dietary and exercise data in American adults between 1971 and 2008 and 1988 and 2006, respectively. “We observe that for a given amount of self-reported food intake, people will be about 10 percent heavier in 2008 than in 1971, and about five percent heavier for a given amount of physical activity level in 1988 than 2006,” wrote lead researcher Ruth Brown. “These secular changes may in part explain why we have seen the dramatic rise in obesity.” The report’s findings were attributed to a variety of lifestyle and environmental elements, including pollution, medication use, stress levels, gut bacteria, and exposure to light at night.
“The problem of obesity has not gone away. This group has to be aware of it,” Bhargava said.