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Why baby boomers are less healthy than their parents

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Baby boomers less healthy than their parents at the same age: What can you do?

Results of a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights poor health suffered by baby boomers. The finding suggests the health of millions is worse than past generations of the same age. The research has implications for the future of health care policies.

In the report, one of the reasons cited is lower activity levels. many boomers are obese, leading to health problems.

In 2010, statistics showed baby boomers make up 26.8 percent of the population. We’re living longer, but not necessarily healthier, suggested by the study that revealed more than half of those studied fail to get any regular exercise.

Other findings uncovered high blood pressure that is more common among baby boomers, compared to previous generations. High cholesterol is also more rampant. More boomers take medications for diabetes and hypertension than prior generations.

Silver linings’ gleaned from the study include lower smoking rates, fewer heart attacks and less incidence of emphysema.

More baby boomers have diabetes than their parents and grandparents. The study found insignificant, but slightly higher rates of cancer.

Moderate alcohol consumption, compared to past generations, was found to be more prevalent. Drinking alcohol in moderation is suggested to be healthy, but combined with inactivity, poor dietary habits and obesity negates any potential benefits.

Baby boomers are less healthy than previous generations because they’re not practicing healthy lifestyles, suggested by the finding that negates past findings suggesting boomers might be healthier than their parents at the same age.

The finding has implications for future policies and for the health workforce who could face the burden of caring or millions of baby boomers who are living longer, but wracked with health issues.

The investigation that compared the health status of baby boomers to their parents from 1988 to 1994, and again 2007 to 2010 10 ties in with concerns that Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and disability rates are expected to soar, placing a burden on the health care system and workforce.

In the report, just 13 percent of baby boomers described their health as ‘excellent’, compared to 32 percent of their parents. Obesity rates were 10 percent higher for boomers than parents.

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Dr. Dana King, a professor of family medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine said in a press release baby boomers may be relying too much on medications to treat their ills. Lack of exercise, combined with reliance on pharmaceuticals may be the biggest reasons boomers health is worse than their parents by the time they reach mid-life.

A finding not addressed in the current study was limited access to health care for mental health issues and substance abuse for older people.

The study, published July, 2011, highlighted yet another problem faced by baby boomers from lack of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for mental health services for millions with limited income from disability and social security wages.

It's never too late to turn your health around

The good news is that it’s never too late to turn things around. Perhaps baby boomers could consider the finding a challenge to take charge of their health and well-being. Schedule you preventive screenings that are no cost, take advantage of that free gym membership offered by a variety of Medicare Advantage plans.

Check with your insurance to know what value added services are included in your plan. It's important to know that Medicare offers a free annual physical exam. If you're concerned about doctor co-payments, speak directly with your physician for a payment option plan.

There’s an exercise for everyone, even those with chronic pain. Exercise can improve every aspect of poor health and can be done in 5 to 10 minute increments throughout the day.

Weight loss programs are readily available through Weight Watchers, online or by seeing a nutritionist for counseling. Hospitals and pharmacies also offer free classes. Many insurance companies include weight loss coaches free of charge and nurse case managers who can provide guidance and support to help you meet your health goals.

Obesity takes a toll on every system in the body, but just losing 5 percent of body weight can make a huge difference in ameliorating risk factors and chronic pain related to high body mass index.

It's possible that baby boomers health is worse than their parents from challenges that didn't affect past generations.

We’re living longer, but if the trend continues, quality of life is destined for the pits for people in their 50’s and 60’s who are part of the baby boomer generation. The study challenges the notion that boomers are healthier than their parents – but the good news is there is much that can be done to reverse poor health status.

Feb 4, 2013

Image credit: Morguefile