A new study led by USC professor Lawrence S. Neinstein, MD, examines the health risks faced by emerging adults. Their risks are high despite perceptions, both by themselves and others, as being of a low health-risk population. This has brought the healthcare industry to term this group as the "young invincibles." While that notion is usually applied to Americans 18-29, Neinstein's study asserts that it's the younger portion of the demographic, 18-25, that is "adrift in a perfect storm of health risks."
So what risks do our young adults face? Here are the key "take-aways" from Dr. Neinstein's study:
1. Chronic Diseases:
We might think of cancer, heart disease, and mental disorders to be the tragedies of mid-life and old age, but not so. These three diseases are "among the top five causes of mortality in young adults." Many diseases begin or advance during early adult years. Others, like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes can be better addressed or prevented during youth.
2. Accidental Injuries:
Mom and Dad might worry about their college freshman breaking a leg at the slopes, but the statistics speak to a more horrifying reality. The drive to the slopes is the greater concern. Among adolescents and young adults, that 18-25 age group again faces the highest risk. They have more crash-related hospitalization and ER visits. Tragically, they have the worst record for wearing seatbelts, either foregoing them sometimes or entirely.
3. Intentional Injuries:
Sexual and non-sexual assault, suicide, and firearm accidents rank as high risks. White females aged 12-25 are the likeliest victims of sexual assault in our country. Within adolescence and the 20s, emerging adults are at the highest risk for non-sexual assault. The 18-25 age bracket has "higher rates of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts." Emerging adults are also more likely to actually kill themselves when compared to adolescents. They are at the greatest risk of firearm injury, and "young adult males have 10 times the risk of firearm injury compared to females in the same age group."
4. Drugs and Alcohol:
Perhaps in no other category are young adults more guilty of ignorance or denial than with substance abuse. They have a low perception of risk and the lowest access to services while meanwhile their "binge drinking" statistics are high. Adults 21-25 are the most likely age group in America to drive under the influence. Drug use is largely not perceived by young adults as a risk; the study asserts that they have the greatest need for services, but the lowest treatment rates.
Reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, diet, exercise, lack of immunizations, lack of screening, and poor sleep are also key concerns for the health of emerging adults as they statistically lead to striking risk factors.
So how has society responded to this "perfect storm," if at all? The Affordable Care Act has led to a drop in the number of uninsured young adults by 4%, enough for Gallup to report as late as October 2012 that:
"It remains clear that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is having a significant impact on young adults. Fewer Americans aged 18 to 25 lack health insurance now than did before the provision in the law allowing those up to age 26 to stay on the their parents' plans went into effect in September 2010."
That may give some citizens a sense of hope, but are we really just waiting for the other shoe to drop? A recent Washington Post headline reads, "Will young adults face ‘rate shock’ because of the health-care law?" Essentially, the great unknown is whether or not the new laws placing greater demands on insurance companies will be offset by federal subsidies.
"Insurers point to several reasons that premiums will rise. They will soon be required to offer more-comprehensive coverage than many currently provide. Also, their costs will increase because they will be barred from rejecting the sick, and they will no longer be allowed to charge older customers sharply higher premiums than younger ones."
On the surface, these complaints might sound like grumbling from a profitable industry that's doing just fine so far under Obamacare. But that might not matter given that "the success of the law ... depends on enough people signing up for insurance, particularly healthy people."
Wendell Potter, the famed whistle-blower who went from being president of CIGNA to testifying to Congress against the HMO industry, said that "'Rate shock' is the new 'death panels.' They've chosen these words very carefully to scare people. It’s the ideal term for what is, at its core, a fear-based campaign."
And stuck in the middle until it all shakes out remain those 18-25 year-olds, fearless and statistically prone to high risk, often by their own doing but nonetheless lacking healthcare.
Unless they go to the emergency room.