Baby Boomers

US: Baby Boomers in worse health than their parents

Despite having a reputation of being the healthiest and most active generation, baby boomers are actually in worse overall health than their parents, according to a new study by researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

Dana King, MD, chair of the WVU Department of Family Medicine and lead author on the study, said he and his team were somewhat surprised to find that boomers weren’t as healthy as previously believed. In fact, baby boomers have higher levels of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and higher rates of disability than their parents.

To conduct the study, King and his team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (NHANES), including NHANES III (1988-1994) and the NHANES for 2007-2010, focusing on respondents who were 46-64 years old during either period. The two cohorts were compared in regard to health status, functional and work disability, healthy lifestyle characteristics, and presence of chronic disease.

In addition, while life expectancy is higher for boomers than it was for the previous generation, more boomers are unhealthy by their own admission.

Only 13.2% of boomers rated their own health as “excellent,” compared with 32% of those in the older group. Boomers were more likely to have high blood pressure (43% vs. 36.4%), high cholesterol (73.5% vs. 33.8%) and diabetes (15.5% vs. 12%). A full 38.7% of boomers surveyed were obese, compared with 29.4% of their elders. They also had a higher rate of cancer (10.6% vs. 9.5%) but the difference wasn’t big enough to be statistically significant.

Nearly 7% of boomers were using a “walking assist device,” 13.5% had a functional limitation of some kind and 13.8% were limited at work. For the older generation, those figures were only 3.3%, 8.8% and 10.1%, respectively.

Lifestyle factors weren’t in baby boomers’ favour either. Only 35% of boomers said they exercised regularly (compared with 49.9% in the older group) and more than half (52.2%) admitted that they had “no regular physical activity” (only 17.4% of the older group were that sedentary).

Moderate drinking was nearly twice as common among boomers (67.3% vs. 37.2%), though some evidence suggests this might be beneficial.

There were a few areas where baby boomers clearly did better than their elders. Only 21.3% of boomers were smokers when they took the survey, compared with 27.6% for those in the older group. Perhaps as a result, they were less likely to have emphysema (2.3% vs. 3.5%) or to have had a heart attack (3.6% vs. 5.3%).

But on the whole, the message to baby boomers wasn’t pretty:

“Despite their longer life expectancy over previous generations, US 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,” the authors concluded.

According to the National Association of Baby Boomers, the generation includes those born between 1946 and 1964, totaling 75 million people. It is the largest group of consumers in the nation.

King said that as baby boomers move into their 60s and 70s, they will utilize the healthcare system more than ever before. Doctors’ offices will be busier than ever before, and the need for healthcare professionals will sky rocket in the next decade.

Source: WVU Healthcare and West Virginia University Health Sciences