Generation X’s Health Literacy Offers Lessons for All

Generation X doesn't get a lot of attention, but the world could learn a lot from this group to lead healthier lives.

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Generation Z consumers are highly coveted by businesses. Millennials are chasing their dreams. Baby Boomers are retiring in record numbers. But what about Generation X?

recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch featured Millennials debating Baby Boomers on key issues. At one point, the host chimed in with the line “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” It’s a funny punchline but one that comes at the expense of a generation that deserves more credit, especially when it comes to health literacy.

In a report from Health IQ, Generation X scored higher on health literacy tests than all others. It had the highest average and median health literacy scores, both of which correlate to better long-term health outcomes and lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Healthcare can be daunting and can feel too big to approach, but breakthroughs in this space are coming and are beyond imagination. Look at the advent of wearable technology, for example, which has created a huge buzz around what it means to be healthy. Powerful, innovative technology isn’t enough unless its users are educated about the buzz it creates and what it means.

For Gen Xers, researching health insights and buzz is a habit, and half say they feel extremely knowledgeable about keeping themselves and their families healthy. In reality, they have to be because they carry the load of caring for the health of so many.

The Generation That Cares for the Others

Gen Xers juggle a lot. Between helping their Baby Boomer parents navigate getting older — Pew reported that 48% expect to be their primary caretakers — and simultaneously caring for their Generation Z or Millennial children, they have to find time to care for others and themselves in the best, most informed way possible. The fact that they wrestle with all of these health decisions makes it no surprise that they’re savvy and health-literate.

While the world doesn’t give much attention to Generation X, there’s a lot it can learn from this group. Here are three ways this generation is paving the way for the health of those to follow:

1. Separating fact from fiction

Like Gen Xers, who heavily research the health information they consume and the health decisions they make, we should be informed. Physician’s Weekly even calls them the first true healthcare consumers, saying they’re more likely to read reviews and research treatments and products before buying. They show up to doctors’ appointments having already investigated their options and pay attention to the provider’s reputation. You can never be too informed when it comes to your health, and Generation X shows how well that logic holds up.

2. Being active, not passive

Gen Xers choose lifestyles that are most likely to help them avoid the same health problems their parents faced. Having cared for their Baby Boomer parents as they struggled with fragile financial states, declining mental capacities, and physical health issues, this generation actively works to live in such a way that mitigates the risk of meeting the same fate. Gen Xers take control and proactively care for themselves — something we all can and should do as well.

3. Asking the tough questions

Generation X understands that health means more than just exercising and eating vegetables — it means confronting what you don’t know and finding answers. Rather than take what doctors and trainers and nutritionists say at face value, Gen Xers question them and seek knowledge to deeply understand the issues themselves. If someone says, “Eat keto,” they don’t take the leap before working to understand why.

Rather than blindly follow the crowd, know what certain health decisions will mean for you and your journey. Not only does this keep you from making rash — and wrong — health decisions, but it also empowers you to make the right ones.

Baby Boomers might be reluctant to adopt certain health ideals and technology. Millennials might embrace them quickly. Generation X, though, aims for the sweet spot between the two and is showing us the way to find it for ourselves as well.

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