According to new research published Feb. 4, 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine, America’s 78 million Baby Boomers (26%+ of total population) are less active, more obese, and less healthy than those of the previous generation. These results sadly affirm that even with a national obesity rate at an all-time high of 30.6%, there remains a continued inability to implement the needed change to reverse this trend, potentially dooming the U.S. to remain the world’s most obese nation faced with increasied health consequences.
Dr. Dana King and his team compared data for persons aged 46 - 64 years old during 2007 - 2010 (Baby Boomers) to those 46-64 during 1988 - 1994 (previous generation). In a Feb 5thTime report, Dr. King commented that the findings showed that although Baby Boomers have a longer life expectancy, they unfortunately “tend to live longer with a greater burden of chronic disease, and more disability. We are becoming over dependent on medications and surgical solutions rather than creating our own good health.”
A number of reports attribute the increase in health risks for Boomers to the combination of decreased activity with rising obesity rates. According to the Harvard School of Public Health: “Obesity increases the risk of several debilitating, and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers” Indeed King's study shows obesity to be significantly higher at 39% among baby boomers compared to 29% for their parents. Only 35% of boomers are regular exercisers compared to 49.9% of the older generation when they were of similar age. 52% of boomers said they had no regular physical activity at all, while only 17% of their parents' generation reported the same level of inactivity.
Dr. King focused on this large difference in the typical amount of exercise done by each generation urging Baby Boomers to “adopt healthier lifestyles – to get more exercise and eat healthier diets.”
While other research has made the health consequences of inactivity and obesity known, the new JAMA study illustrates a seemingly widening of the gap between knowledge and action towards healthy change. In a June 2011 AP Survey 42% of Boomers admitted to not attempting to ‘actively try to improve’ physical fitness by adopting a ‘regular program of physical exercise’, In a later December 2012 AP Survey on public perception on obesity, adult respondents admit ‘inactivity’ to be the major reason for the country’s obesity problem because: ‘People spend too much time in front of TV, video game and computer screens’.
In his previous 2007 study Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle in Middle Age, King shows substantial health benefits to embarking on a healthier lifestyle later in life, “middle-age is not too late to act….. It really needs to have a high priority in your personal life. People should just do everything they can to be active and eat health. It would make such a dramatic difference."
In his subsequent 2009 research on the 18 year decrease in adherence to healthy habits among adults 40-74, King believes his findings “should provide new motivation for an increasing commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles for the public good”.
Seems the nation is still waiting for the motivation. Hopefully the obesity rate won’t continue to climb in the meantime.
- DANA E KING MD , MS Professor and Chair, West Virginia University
- The Status of Baby Boomers' Health in the United States: The Healthiest Generation? Dana E. King, MD, MS; Eric Matheson, MD, MS; Svetlana Chirina, MPH; Anoop Shankar, MD, PhD, MPH; Jordan Broman-Fulks JAMA Intern Med. 2013;():1-2. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2006. Published online February 4, 2013
- BOOMERS SURVEY JUNE 2011 Associated Press lifegoesstrong.com; conducted by Knowledge Networks July 13, 2011
- “OBESITY IN THE U.S.: PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS Nov. 21 – Dec. 14, 2012”Conducted and funded by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, University of Chicago Interview dates: Nov. 21 – Dec. 14, 2012;
- Turning Back the Clock: Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle in Middle Age Dana E. King, MD, MS, Arch G. Mainous III, PhD, Mark E. Geesey, MS,The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 120, Issue 7 , Pages 598-603, July 2007
- Adherence to Healthy Lifestyle Habits in US Adults, 1988-2006Dana E. King, MD, MS, Arch G. Mainous III, PhD, Mark Carnemolla, BS, Charles J. Everett, PhD The American Journal of Medicine Volume 122, Issue 6 , Pages 528-534, June 2009
- Weight Problems Take a Hefty Toll on Body and Mind Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site, Harvard school of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115