Millennials are more prone to health issues than their parents and more eager to urge others to change their habits to live a healthier life. These are just some of the findings of a survey about health attitudes, the result of the first collaboration between me and a talented, curious high-school student. I believe it is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

Who are the millennials?

Millennials are born between 1980 and 2000, they have grown up in a time of rapid change ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall, through the spread of globalized economy represented by the shared service centers in Bangalore to the rise and fall of the VHS, mix tapes, MSN messenger, MyVip or the shine and disappearance of the Spice Girls or the Backstreet Boys. They are the first digital natives explaining to grandma how Facebook and Snapchat work, streaming movies online or buying products from China on sale without any second thought. Not to mention how connected and social they are, knowing bits and pieces of information mainly from online channels. Reading the printed paper on the way to work? Rather listening to the latest podcast on the subway.

Millennials have an extremely different life experience from that of their parents so far which gives them an extremely different worldview than that of their parents, not speaking about their grandparents. Marriage at 20? No way! Buying a car? What for? They’d rather pay for travelling to Asia!

Who Are The Millennials?

But what about millennials’ health preferences?

Goldman Sachs found in their research about millennials that they also have a different attitude towards health than previous generations. And it changed for the better. For Millennials, healthy does not only mean ‘not sick’. Wellness became a daily pursuit.

Attitudes towards smoking or (in a less visible extent but also in the case of) drinking changed in the last decades. According to Goldman Sachs, 69 per cent of 12th graders disapproved in 1998 if an adult smoked one or more packs of cigarettes a day. In 2013, this percentage increased to 83 per cent. It is generally visible that they are exercising more, eating smarter and smoking less than previous generations. They are using apps to track training data, and online information to find the healthiest foods.

Millennials' Health Preferences

But what does it all look like IRL?

When I started to work together with the very talented, 17-year-old Krisztina Sipos, I experienced firsthand the differences between very young millennials and my generation (well, I’m not THAT old myself either, but still). When I was 17 years old, my passion was playing football and not working in an internship program together on digital health issues. However, Krisztina’s generation is different, and she was eager to get me familiarized with it. As we engaged more and more in the internship program, we figured we would both like to know more about the millennials. So we put together an online questionnaire about health attitudes among her peers. For our biggest surprise, it was filled out by more than 300 people and we are more than happy to share our experiences with you.

Millennials' Hands

The parameters of the survey about health attitudes among millennials

Our survey was filled out by 339 youngsters from as much as 43 locations ranging from geyser-filled Iceland through windy Mongolia until the beaches of Spain. We wanted to give a voice to a group of young people in their 20s as diverse as possible, so we tried to truly reach beyond our Central European means.

As our basic idea was to ask about the health preferences of millennials, and Krisztina asked first of all her peers, the age group reflects somewhat also her wider network. The average age is 21.3 years. The gender balance shows a shift towards young ladies: 72.6 per cent of the respondents were female, while only 27.4 per cent male.

What do the data suggest? Millennials think they are healthy.

According to the questionnaire consisting of 12 questions, millennials generally believe they are healthy. For the very first question (How healthy do you consider yourself?), respondents scored a 3.5 meaning they rather consider themselves fit and sound than not. Here, they had to score their health subjectively on a scale from 1 to 5, where five means super healthy.

In line with their own evaluation, our general impression based on the questionnaire was that millennials consider themselves healthy, while they are not crazy about it: most of them are not on a strict diet, their phones are not only about MyFitnessPal, Fitbit or other health apps. It didn’t become a #1 priority. However, they use digital devices and apps for living healthily and they are way ahead than previous generations. Furthermore, millennials consciously avoid unhealthy food, use several health apps, and do many of the times different variety of sports.

The use of digital devices and apps for living healthily

As smartphones spread around the globe as viruses, health apps become more and more popular. The respondents to our questionnaire seemed to be fairly open to try new digital health gadgets such as sensors. Some of them are already active users of various smartphone health apps. Obviously, the key is the level of attention to health issues. It is quite a simple equation that those people, who are already attentive to live a healthier life, are more open to new possibilities to make it happen.

Among our surveyed millennials the most popular health apps were Endomondo, Fitbit, My Fitness Pal, Nike Running, Runkeeper, Runtastic, Withings. We have to give them plenty of credit for knowing and using such a various palette. We were also curious whether they are familiar not only with smartphone apps, but health trackers and sensors.

Thus, it seems fair to say that these millennials are quite informed about health sensors and trackers. Only 22 out of the 337 respondents said that none of the mentioned wearables is familiar to them. The most widely known tracker is the quite well marketed Apple Watch. But the difference is still striking if we consider that Fitbit, which TMF considers the best fitness tracker on the market, is almost half as known as the Apple Watch. Garmin, the company selling multisport GPS watches and activity trackers, came in as third in our list.

The fourth place – significantly lagging behind – is occupied by Jawbone’s stylish activity and sleep trackers, followed by Pebble Time, the most multi-faceted sleep tracker developed so far. It actually came as a very positive surprise that more than 20 people from a randomly chosen statistical population already knew Muse, the brain sensing headband for making the most out of your meditation or AliveCor Heart Monitor, a mobile phone based electrocardiogram.

Wearable Technology

Social motivation pushes them further

A big difference in this generation compared to the previous ones that urging other people to a healthier lifestyle is very important to them. Moreover, almost 50% of the surveyed people are currently urging their friends with different kind of methods to change their lifestyles. Either by talking to them or by using technologies help.

Millennials have great ideas how to change views globally

Not only do millennials believe in the effect of social motivation, they have many great ideas how to change health attitudes globally. One of our respondents said that we need more education and more companies who care about the products that they make and not only their profit. What more to say? We are fully in agreement! Or here goes another: incentives should be built in to medical insurance. Yes, they should be – and there are already signs the medical insurance market will move into this direction.

But not everyone was so industry-focused, the most emphasized the need for education as well as easier and cheaper access to healthy food. But our favorite was the one who said that it will not matter how much technology there is, if the person is not willing to change his or her habits. Our dear respondent expressed the pure essence of our philosophy regarding wearable technology and health.

Change Instead of Chance - Wearable Health Sensors

Technology’s role in living healthier lives

Finding motivation for a healthy lifestyle is incredibly hard. It’s currently assigned to fitness enthusiasts and marathon runners. But disruptive technologies have the potential to change this. When people buy health trackers, they expect the tracker to make the change for them. Whereas I think technology cannot change our lifestyle, we can change it motivated by data that we measure with good technologies.

Whenever someone receives immediate feedback about anything related to their health, it becomes a significant motivation. So, we need to show people that living a healthy life is truly beneficial and keeping good habits can be supported by technology.

So let’s keep in mind. Health trackers cannot change your lifestyle. You can change it with health trackers.

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