Young people and their health

Young people and their health
Young people and their health. Image source: Unsplash

You may think that health is mainly a concern for the middle aged and older age groups, but the last few years have changed all this – both globally and locally. In the aftermath of the pandemic, fewer young people are being frivolous about their health, or living their lives without a thought for their future.

This seems to be the case in South Africa too. The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) recently conducted a survey called ‘Frame Your Future’, where they asked 850 internet-connected respondents between the ages of 17 and 20 years about their hopes and fears for the future. The results were eye opening: 28% said they were ‘very’ worried about staying healthy and not getting sick, while 31% said they were ‘quite’ worried about not falling ill. Health, clearly, is now top of mind with young people.

Compounded to this is the fact that young people are also living in a highly challenging economic and social environment, and this has implications on the way they live, work, think and act. One of the biggest repercussions of these challenges is increased mental health issues among young people, with depression and anxiety being the two most common issues noted by these same survey respondents. Interestingly, female respondents were significantly more concerned than male respondents about the status of their mental health.

Locally, South Africa’s intense economic and societal challenges are seeming to compound the issue. A 2023 study from The South African Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG) surveyed a large percentage of young adults in their respondent group, looking specifically at the effect of load shedding on mental health. The results revealed that 95% of total respondents said they feared load shedding would cause job losses, with 96% fearing long term economic damage.

Economic concerns and the rising cost of living are also more pronounced for younger people who may be just starting out their careers and not yet earning within a high salary band. Another study conducted recently by medical aid company Fedhealth, noted that many young people have high startup costs when entering adult life that aren’t offset by their salary income, including things like student loans and taking care of family (both financially and otherwise).

With all these expenses to think of, most of these career starters are finding that things like medical aid becomes something that they opt out of having because they simply can’t afford it – even though they want to prioritise their health more than ever. A survey hosted in 2021 by Sanlam with nearly 5000 respondents revealed that 36% of the sample said they don’t have medical aid – and of these, 59% were younger than 40.

Those who do prioritise having medical aid often opt for network options, possibly due to the reduced costs associated with these. Some medical aid schemes are recognising this gap in the market and are introducing plans that cater for this youth demographic. Fedhealth’s flexiFEDSavvy is intended to be an affordable hospital plan for the younger generation who are generally fit and healthy, but want to still be covered for medical emergencies.

While younger people may be some of the physically healthiest of the population, if they do need to go to hospital, they may need medical care that in South Africa can cost hundreds of thousands of rands if provided by a private hospital. From the data above though, it’s clear that young people often cannot afford private medical aid, and certainly not the more comprehensive plans within a medical aid scheme. This means they can be left out of pocket and in an even worse financial position as they start their lives in the working world.

According to the World Economic Forum, Africa will be home to a billion youth by 2050 – so the perspectives and priorities of young people should matter hugely to companies and brands. Making quality healthcare accessible and affordable for this younger demographic should therefore be high on our agenda, in terms of catering to a generation who hold our future in their hands.