CDC: More than half of young Americans have at least one chronic illness

Report finds nearly a quarter have more than one chronic illness

A report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 53.8% of young adults ages 18-34 have a chronic illness, and 22.3% have more than one.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines a chronic condition as one that lasts a year or longer and either disrupts the ability to live independently and take care of oneself or requires ongoing medical intervention, products and services.

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The CDC studied 11 chronic conditions in young adults and found the most prevalent were obesity, depression and high blood pressure. The findings showed those with a chronic condition had a 50% increased chance of developing another chronic condition. Characteristics such as race, gender, age, location and employment played a role in prevalence of certain chronic conditions.

For example, 29.8% of adults 25–34 had obesity, compared to 19.4% of 18– to 24-year-olds. Obesity was also more prevalent in non-Hispanic Black people compared to non-Hispanic white people, more in those who were unemployed compared to employed or students, and more prevalent in those living in rural versus urban areas. Women were almost two times as likely to report depression than males, and men were almost two times as likely to have high blood pressure than women.

Obesity was most prevalent in non-Hispanic Black people, affecting 33.7% of the young Black population surveyed. Depression was found highest among 30.9% of unemployed people and 48.9% of people with a disability. High blood pressure was also found in 13.5% of unemployed people and 17.3% of people with disabilities.

“It is less clear to me, and probably less well-studied, as to why we have such a high incidence of depression in our Gen Z and millennial or 18- to 35-year-old cohort as compared to prior generations,” Dr. Alex Li, deputy chief medical officer at L.A. Care Health Plan, told Healthline.

“(They) are more likely to be burdened by heavy debt, face an increasing number of existential crises such as global warming, and a host of other factors,” Li said.

The report showed that unhealthy lifestyles contributed to a high prevalence of chronic illnesses in young adults. Those with chronic conditions were more likely to report binge drinking, smoking and inactivity than those without.

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“Because chronic conditions become more prevalent with age, a focus on prevention and risk factors is essential for health across the life span,” corresponding author of the report Kathleen B. Watson, Ph.D. wrote. “These findings highlight the importance of increasing the availability of evidence-based strategies tailored to young adults to improve the prevention, treatment and management of chronic conditions.”

Identifying chronic issues in young adults can prompt further research for this age group and raise awareness of the prevalence of chronic illnesses. Some experts have suggested the COVID-19 pandemic may be partly to blame.

“Many have spent the past two years indoors, in front of a computer,” Dr. Louis Morledge, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline. “And this age group has experienced the most glaring shift from experiencing social engagement in a variety of educational and professional settings to instead being stationary and alone.”

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