Monday, November 25, 2013

Study Compares Baby Boomers' Health to Their Parents'

By Martin Cook

With all the advances in medicine over the last few decades, it’s easy to assume that one generation’s health would be better than the one before it. Unfortunately, that's not the case, as a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine makes clear. Although medicine has increased the life expectancy of baby boomers, the study shows that baby boomers are not as healthy as the previous generation.

Baby Boomers Living Longer, but not Better 

Baby boomers include those born between 1946 and 1964, and currently make up 26 percent of the population. Although having the longest life expectancy ever, boomers have a higher frequency of chronic disease, increased disability and lower self-rated health than that of their parents at the same age.

The study examined the health of baby boomers from 2007 to 2010 and compared that with the health status of the previous generation from 1988 to 1994. Although boomers may live longer than previous generations, that might be a mixed blessing.

By the Numbers

Findings of the study were surprising. “There seems to be somewhat of a disconnect between the reputation of baby boomers for being healthy and what we see,” said Dana King, MD, MS, the study’s lead author and professor of family medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine.

The results of the study found that:

  • 13 percent of baby boomers reported being in excellent health, compared with 32 percent of the previous generation.
  • 39 percent of baby boomers are obese, compared with 29 percent.  
  • 16 percent of baby boomers have diabetes, compared with 12 percent.
  • 43 percent of baby boomers have hypertension, compared with 36 percent.
  • 73 percent of baby boomers have hypercholesterolemia, compared with 34 percent.
  • 7 percent of baby boomers use a device to help them walk, compared with 3 percent. 
  • 35 percent of baby boomers exercised more than 12 times a month, compared with 50 percent. 
  • 52 percent of baby boomers reported no regular physical exercise, compared with 17 percent.

The unhealthy condition of aging baby boomers is expected to have profound implications on the health care industry. As Dr. King said, “The baby boomers are going into those high medical-use years in much worse condition than their forefathers.”

Many of the underlying causes for the health issues experienced by baby boomers can be traced back to their higher rates of obesity. The research showed that medication use for baby boomers was higher than for the previous generation. Dr. King is concerned that baby boomers are relying too much on medication to solve their health issues. He said the drugs are supposed to be used in tandem with a healthy lifestyle, not in place of it.

But the news is not all bad. The study found that baby boomers were less likely to smoke, resulting in less emphysema than the previous generation suffered. Baby boomers were also less likely to suffer a heart attack. This is good news, but these bright spots pale in comparison to baby boomers’ overall health.

Martin Cook is a health education consultant with Health Education Solutions, specializing in online medical education and certification. He strives to provide information to those seeking everything from basic health certifications to a full career in the health care industry.

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