Be Well: How Millennials Are Shaping Health Care’s Future

From Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s Be Well

As they’ve grown into adulthood, Millennials (born between 1981-1996) have proven to be a resilient, adaptable bunch. The generation who grew up enduring 9/11, the Great Recession, and climate change complacency possess a strong drive to improve the quality of life not just for themselves but for others.

As the largest living generation in the United States, Millennials are disrupting everything we consume. With their preference for socially conscious and eco-friendly products, they yield significant buying power that’s bringing about change. And, having grown up with a focus on comprehensive health and wellness education, they are also considered the most “health-conscious” generation. As they approach family life and choose how to consume healthcare, they are creating a seismic shift that is shaking up the status quo.

Disenfranchised with the rising costs and time constraints of the traditional American healthcare system, Millennials are trading in prescription drugs as their first course of action for alternatives they deem safer for both their pocketbooks and for their health. According to experts at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU), many are turning to complementary and integrative health (CIH), no longer reserving conventional care as the first stop in their health care journey. “This younger generation is investing in prevention of disease rather than waiting until they get sick to seek treatment,” says Brad Finer, DC, a professor and faculty clinician at NWHSU who sees these changes firsthand in his clinic.

Rather than reactively treating symptoms, CIH modalities work to align the body’s systems to prevent illness with the goal of balancing the organs for optimal function. In other words, improving a person’s overall health. “In my experience, Millennials don’t want to throw medications at a problem just to have it return,” says Stacy Boone-Vikingson, DC, CACCP, clinic lead at the Northwestern Health Sciences University Bloomington Clinic.“They remember the countless doctor visits and antibiotics of their youth.” Instead, she says, “they just want to get to the root of the problem.”

For example, Boone-Vikingson recalls a set of young parents who found that their autistic child had more relief from chiropractic adjustments than psychiatric medications. Unable to focus, the child misbehaved both at school and at home. Instead of pharmaceutical drugs, these Millennial parents chose spinal and cranial sacral work, noticing a huge difference in his behaviors.

Technology Breeds a Desire to Do Better
Smartphones are ubiquitous, providing instant access to health and wellness information. Consequently, doctors are no longer the appointed gatekeepers of knowledge about disease prevention. As digital natives, Millennials want information now, not later, making them impatient with the inefficiencies of communicating with healthcare providers. “Millennials prefer to Google an ailment or symptom before they visit a doctor because they have grown to expect instant access to information,” says Boone-Vikingson, a Millennial herself.

“This younger generation is investing in prevention of disease rather than waiting until they get sick to seek treatment,” says Brad Finer, DC, a professor and faculty clinician at NWHSU who sees these changes firsthand in his clinic.

Generation Z (born after 1997), who grew up with technology in their hands before preschool, leverage the knowledge they glean from tech to an even higher level. “Gen Z is even more open-minded. They are searching for solutions to bigger problems than Millennials,” says Michele Vincent, DC, faculty clinician and associate professor at NWHSU. “The newest generation takes the information on their smartphones and turns it into action. They want to reduce healthcare inequities, attack global warming, and put an end to the toxic waste that’s killing the earth.”

Good Beginnings
Not surprisingly, young parents who have sworn by CIH for years incorporate this type of care into their fertility efforts, pregnancies, and prenatal care. CIH practitioners assess a woman’s whole body, including her central nervous system, and work to optimize the function of her cells, biomechanics, and energy flow. “We have seen amazing results with women who turn to acupuncture and chiropractic care to help get pregnant,” says Vincent.

More and more pregnant Millennials are relying on CIH therapies to help get them through unpleasant side effects such as back pain, nausea, and vomiting. Instead of taking potentially harmful medications to quell these oft-persistent issues, they use CIH practices like acupressure, acupuncture, and chiropractic care to relieve symptoms.

From birth and onward, babies and small children benefit from treatments that address everything from birth traumas, such as shoulder misalignment, to common childhood afflictions such as ear infections and colic. And as they age, Finer says, the Bloomington Clinic sees a lot of musculoskeletal injuries and chronic problems from sports, online gaming, and hours of looking at electronics. “Bad posture yields bad habits,” he says. “The good news is that kids heal and respond faster to treatment.”

The bottom line is that living a healthy lifestyle tops the list of life lessons Millennial parents want to pass down to their kids. “Millennials want to raise their children without the fast-paced stressors, physical consequences, and emotional struggles caused by their parents’ lifestyles,” says Vincent. “The rise in poor health outcomes like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease has laid the groundwork for an increased interest in healthier, natural living.”

A Brighter Future
With improved health and functionality, Millennials are modeling resilience and teaching future generations about the importance of natural care and prevention. They give their children a head-start by helping them grow up knowing how to reduce stress, eat well, and ultimately, ward off disease. Instead of helping them break bad habits that will hurt them in the long run, Millennials are ensuring their kids don’t develop them in the first place. “This generation is decreasing the need for expensive healthcare services and the accompanying insurance costs,” says Vincent. “The knowledge-sharing and individual behavioral changes are making a big difference.”