Millennial and Gen Z union members have unique needs, especially when it comes to their health. While their age does mean that they're at lower risk for certain conditions, they may assume — incorrectly — that a cholesterol screening isn't important until later in life.
The reality is that, according to research from Blue Cross Blue Shield, younger generations are showing they may be more likely to develop high cholesterol and hypertension than the generations before them. Already in the U.S., data reported by Bloomberg shows a jump in chronic disease among millennials.
Cholesterol screenings are crucial — they can signal a person's risk for heart attack, heart disease and other dangerous cardiovascular diseases. As a union leader, it's important to educate members on proper cholesterol screening habits to help protect their health.
The Importance of Screening for Elevated Cholesterol
Typically, high cholesterol produces no symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is what makes a screening critical. Experts agree that screenings for elevated cholesterol should start when members reach their 20s and should become more frequent starting in their mid-30s.
Cholesterol screenings are often part of a regular wellness exam with a primary care doctor, so encourage members to keep up with annual wellness exams. Members should make sure they've had a screening, especially if they've recently changed primary care physicians. They should not count on doctors to suggest a screening.
A cholesterol screening is a simple blood test that requires little preparation. However, a doctor might instruct a patient not to eat or drink anything but water for up to 12 hours before the test to make sure the results are accurate.
How Often Should Members Be Screened?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults 20 years and older have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. After age 40, a doctor will consider a range of factors to calculate how likely someone is to have heart disease or a stroke in the next 10 years and screen accordingly. The AHA provides a helpful "Check. Change. Control." Calculator to help assess risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even suggests screening children: once between ages 9 to 11 and once again between ages 17 to 21. Members with children should be aware that more than 1 in 5 youths from ages 6 to 19 have an unhealthy cholesterol reading. Around 95 million adults age 20 or older in the U.S. also have high cholesterol, according to the CDC. It's imperative to get screened early.
Risk Factors to Consider
Several risk factors may cause a doctor to suggest more frequent screenings than the standard recommendation. The CDC reports that those factors include:
- A family history. Early heart attacks, heart disease or high cholesterol can be genetic.
- Poor eating habits. Saturated fat from animal products and trans fats in processed foods can elevate cholesterol.
- A lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol.
- Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — the "bad" cholesterol — and lowers HDL.
- Older age. The body's ability to process cholesterol slows down in older age.
- Being male. Men tend to have higher LDL and lower HDL than women.
- Smoking. Smoking cigarettes damages blood vessel walls, making them more likely to accumulate fatty deposits.
As you communicate the importance of early screenings to your younger members, offer strategies they can use to lower high cholesterol. Exercising, eating well, quitting smoking, managing stress and drinking in moderation can all help to keep cholesterol and other health problems in check, enabling members to stay productive for years to come.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.