The good news for those 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 (the so-called "baby boomers" or "boomers", for short) is that life expectancy is significantly increased when compared with the previous generation.
The not-so-good news is that more boomers do not exercise as much as their parents did at the same age, have higher cholesterol, are fatter, more hypertensive, and diabetic than their parents. They are also twice as likely to stop working because of a disability and are more likely to require a cane or walker to ambulate.
This is true despite the fact that fewer boomers smoke, have emphysema or heart attacks when compared to the so-called “greatest generation”.
These findings, reported last week online in JAMA Internal Medicine are a result of a study by researchers from the West Virginia University School of Medicine and the Medical University of South Carolina.
Principal investigator Dana E. King, M.D., of the West Virginia University School of Medicine and her team wanted to learn whether boomers who were living longer than the previous generation were actually healthier.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) comparing the two groups during the years when they were aged 46 to 64.
Only about 13 percent of boomers rated their own health as “excellent,” compared with 32 percent of their parents’ generation at the same age.
In several interviews, Dr. King has attributed much of the declining health of many aging boomers to the increase in obesity and lack of exercise.
It is also possible that with increased access to healthcare, boomers are getting diagnosed with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and early dementia- conditions their parents didn’t know they had.
Whatever the reasons, boomer’s health status as they become Medicare eligible will have a huge impact on the healthcare system going forward. Policy makers need to pay attention and plan for the future.
In the meantime, it’s not too late for boomers to make the lifestyle changes (e.g. daily exercise, eating right, reducing stress) that will improve their chances for both a longer and healthier old age.