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Feb 19, 2013

Baby Boomers Less Healthy Than Previous Generation

A recent study finds baby boomers have higher rates of chronic disease, higher levels of disability and lower self-rated health than those born a generation prior.

Many experts are interested in looking at the health of baby boomers, the generation born post-World War II between 1946 and 1964. At this point, most baby boomers are in their 50s and 60s and together, they make up more than one-fourth of the total U.S. population. With significant improvements in medicine over the last 50 years, life expectancy has improved and the baby boomers are living longer than previous generations. But, are they living healthier?

Findings are mixed, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers used results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare the health of baby boomers to those born in the previous generation, all of whom were 46 to 64 years old at the time of the survey. Overall, researchers found that baby boomers have higher rates of chronic disease, more disability and lower self-rated health than members of the previous generation at the same age. Baby boomers were more likely to be obese and less physically active than the previous generation, and had greater rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. There were a few positive notes: baby boomers were less likely to smoke cigarettes and they have lower rates of emphysema and heart attack than the previous generation.

So should we be concerned about these findings? Absolutely. Poorer health means greater health care costs, which are already high to begin with. But perhaps most concerning is that the declining health of the baby boomer generation is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. With nearly two-thirds of children overweight or obese, our future generations are likely to continue the trend of declining health unless we take drastic measures. More policies around prevention and health promotion are needed to help improve the health of both younger and older generations. Such changes will help ensure that not only will we live longer, but that we’ll live healthier too.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can older adults improve and extend quality of life?
  • The best way for older adults to live longer and healthier is to prevent and manage chronic conditions through physical activity and diet. It’s important to reduce and control any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, and to take advantage of preventive services like health screenings and immunizations.

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