New poll shows how generations differ over health issues

The Center for Prevention, a Blue Cross Blue Shield program funded last September through proceeds from the organization’s historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry, surveyed 1,235 state residents across four generations: Baby Boomers (ages 53-71), Gen X (ages 37-52), Gen Y (ages 18-36) and Gen Z (ages 13-17). They found over half of all Minnesotans polled (51 percent) think they care more about their health than their parents or grandparents, but Baby Boomers (66 percent) care “most strongly” about health compared to Gen X (60 percent), Gen Y (46 percent) and Gen Z (28 percent).

Other key findings include: Gen Y Minnesotans (46 percent) support publicly funded preventive health programs for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer more strongly than the other three generational groups. All age groups also want tax money used for school health and wellness initiatives: Gen Z (52 percent), Gen Y (51 percent), Gen X (46 percent) and Boomers (44 percent).

Anika Ward Courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota

At least two-thirds of Minnesotans are physically active, but their activities vary by generation.

Did the poll find similar responses among Black age groups? Anika Ward, the Center for Prevention’s director, said in a recent MSR phone interview they didn’t have any racial breakdown data but she believes the results would be comparable.

“My personal opinion would not be that we [as Blacks] care more about health than our parents and grandparents, but we have more access to the information and resources that our parents and grandparents didn’t have. I think that is impacting the ways my generation and other generations younger than me view health,” Ward pointed out.

Ward, who joined Blue Cross Blue Shield almost two years ago, has worked with local organizations to improve outcomes for families and youth over the past 20 years. She noted that her work also gave her a keen insight into her own family health history: “I understand my own family stories,” including several members of her family with smoking habits.

“My parents’ generation” dealt with cigarette smoking and learning about its addictive habits, Ward recalled. “I learned a lot, and understood a lot about how our community [had] a lifelong addiction to menthol… I am realizing that there is not a community or a family that this doesn’t touch.

“My mother, father and sister [smoked], and how they were attracted to menthol cigarettes and the ways they were attracted were planned by the cigarette companies, and it has worked for so many generations. To hear my parents talk about my grandparents’ stories is really distressing and disturbing, and that we haven’t stopped in our community yet.”

Ward said of the Blue Cross poll, “I think there also is a difference across generations” in thinking about health, especially among Blacks and other people of color. Black mortality rates are double that of other Minnesotans, she pointed out. “African American men are more likely to die from prostate cancer than Whites. African American women are more likely to get diagnosed with [breast] cancer” than White women.

“The list goes on and on,” she emphasized.

She therefore advised, “If we are not paying close attention to the health issues right now, we are going to see our issues continue to get deeper. If we are paying attention, and are using the lessons in how to shape our communities – people are living a healthier lifestyle – doing that will create a healthier community.

“We are more aware of…how menthol impacted our community,” Ward continued, “how to undo some of the systemic things that plagued our community, and how it costs us dearly in our health. I think the conversations are different.”

Unfortunately, smoking among Blacks still exists, she reiterated. “I think the biggest lesson, the biggest outcome for me, is how everything, every individual decision that we make impacts our health.

“It is critical that we are informed” about health issues, because decisions that are made “will have an impact on a huge level and will impact our families and impact the stories that we will be able to tell later,” she pointed out. The health decisions people make today “are going to be part of the stories that our next generations will be telling about community health and their families.”

Ward says the Center for Prevention is committed to working with local organizations in helping communities “take the lead in addressing health issues.” For example, Slow Roll St. Paul, a group that meets during the summer months, is using “a cross-generational approach to addressing health issues in Minnesota. We focus on predominately people of color neighborhoods in St. Paul,” Ward said.

“We are in the healthcare realm, and we know that preventive health [is important].  We typically know that we can’t achieve the health outcomes we want and make a difference in people’s lives without addressing the socioeconomic factors that also profoundly impact health. Our organization has made it a priority to address health inequities and racial inequities in Minnesota,” Ward said.


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