Blood donations have fallen to catastrophic levels. Experts believe that the solution lies in young people

It was a white T-shirt featuring an image of Snoopy wearing sunglasses and leaning effortlessly against the iconic American Red Cross logo that sparked a surge in blood donations in the spring of 2023.

“HE cool. Donate blood,” the T-shirt urged. The message – on young people, at least – was effective. More than 70,000 people under the age of 35 answered the call, rolled up their sleeves and donated blood in exchange for the coveted T-shirts.

The need for blood is urgent. During the holidays, the Red Cross I had 7,000 less units of blood than hospitals needed, according to Dr. Eric Gehrie, executive medical director of the American Red Cross. The organization estimated it would need about 8,000 additional donations each week in January to ensure hospitals were fully supplied, he added.

A Red Cross T-shirt with Snoopy boosts blood donations.American Red Cross

The intention of Snoopy’s campaign, according to the Red Cross, was to encourage teenagers and young adults to donate blood for the first time. This is expected to create lifelong donation habits, habits that could help reverse the decline in blood donations that has occurred for decades.

“Over the last 20 years, we have seen a 40% decline in the total number of Red Cross donors,” Gehrie said. “The sooner we can connect with someone, and they make a donation, they will become a donor for life.”

But the percentage of teens and young adults who have donated blood has steadily declined since 2013, according to the National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey.

From 2019 to 2021, according to the survey, blood donations among young people between 16 and 18 years old fell 60%. Donations among 19- to 24-year-olds fell by almost a third.

(This is what you should know about the rise of the new variant of COVID-19)

The pandemic certainly played a role in that decline, but experts worry the numbers will remain low.

“If this trend continues, we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult situation,” said Dr. Claudia Cohn, medical director of the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies. “Blood donation centers often depend on institutes for their donation campaigns.”

Why do young people donate less blood?

“The best donors tend to belong to the generation of baby boomers“Unfortunately, younger people are not donating and replacing those numbers like we need them to.”

Part of this may be due to changes put in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2015, when it established new requirements for blood donors.

The agency increased the hemoglobin level required to donate. Hemoglobin molecules contain iron, an essential mineral that Cohn said tends to be lower in adolescent girls and young women who menstruate. The FDA change was intended to reduce the risk of iron deficiency after donation.

(Obamacare once again breaks registration records when there is still time for more registrations)

The FDA has also modified the minimum height and weight requirements necessary to donate blood. In general, a person should weigh at least 110 pounds.

Although those minimum thresholds were established to protect donors, according to Gehrie, the changes will most likely affect young donors who are giving for the first time.

“We’ve had a lot of high school donors who have been turned away” because of the changes, Gehrie said. “We don’t want these young donors to have the impression that because they were rejected for that reason, they can’t donate again.”

The problem worsened during the pandemic. Institutes, schools and offices occupied by twenty-somethings were previously places where blood banks could go to encourage young people to donate. Those usual blood donation sites were sidelined as students and employees worked from home.

(The suicide rate among Latinos skyrockets: children under 12 years of age are the most affected by this crisis)

But many schools and offices that held blood drives before COVID-19 have not resumed the programs, according to the Red Cross.

The Snoopy effect of 2023 has not lasted. This month, the Red Cross hopes to bring back the magic by offering anyone who donates blood a chance to win tickets to the Super Bowl. Neither the Red Cross nor the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies said they had any other campaigns aimed at young people planned.