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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Baby Boomers' Health Worse Than Their Parents'

By Steven Fox
Medscape Medical News

Feb. 5, 2012 -- Today's baby boomers may live longer than their parents, but they are less healthy overall, a new study finds.

“U.S. 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," write the authors of the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Dana King, MD, of the West Virginia University School of Medicine, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that focused on middle-aged respondents (aged 46 - 64) from two periods: 1988 to 1994 and 2007 to 2010.

The researchers compared the two groups on their self-reported health status, functional and work disability, healthy lifestyle characteristics, and whether they were affected by chronic diseases.

Some of their findings:

  • 13.2% of boomers reported "excellent" health compared with 32% of individuals in the previous generation.
  • More than twice as many baby boomers used walking assist devices (6.9% vs. 3.3%).
  • More boomers were limited in their work by disability (13.8% vs. 10.1%).
  • More were coping with some type of functional limitation (13.5% vs. 8.8%).
  • Obesity was more common among baby boomers compared with the previous generation (38.7% vs. 29.4%).
  • Boomers reported exercising significantly less often (35% vs. 49.9% exercised more than 12 times per month). In fact, more than half the baby boomer respondents said they had no regular physical activity at all (52.2% vs. 17.4%).
  • Moderate drinking was more common among the boomers compared to the previous generation (67.3% vs. 37.2%).
  • Ten times as many boomers reported receiving cholesterol-lowering drugs as the previous generation (25.9% vs. 1.5%), and nearly twice as many reported being treated for diabetes (11.3% vs. 6.2%).
  • Conversely, fewer of the baby boomers were smokers at the time surveyed (21.3% vs. 27.6%), and 2.3% of boomers reported having been diagnosed with emphysema compared with 3.5% of respondents in the previous generation.
  • Baby boomers were also less likely to have had a heart attack (3.6% vs. 5.3%).

The researchers did account for other factors between the two groups, such as age, sex, race, and socioeconomic status. "The results indicated, after adjustment, that baby boomers remained more likely than the previous generation to have diabetes, hypertension; and [high cholesterol]," the authors write.

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