Obesity to Blame for Poor Health in Baby Boomers

Despite living longer than any generation before them, baby boomers' overall quality of health is suffering.

baby boomersBaby boomers are living longer, but in poor health. Photo via Shutterstock.

Despite having a longer life expectancy than any generation before them, baby boomers may not be so healthy after all, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reports. The study says that the 78 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964 have technological and medical improvements and increased public health campaigns to thank for their heightened life expectancy—and their lifestyle habits to blame for soaring levels of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Dr. Dana King, a professor of family medicine at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to find that, between 2007 and 2010, only 13 percent of baby boomers called their overall condition of health “excellent,” as opposed to the 32 percent of similarly-aged Americans who called their health “excellent” from 1988 to 1994. A Time article about the study quotes Dr. King about the state of baby boomers’ health:

“Baby boomers are living longer, so I think there may be presumptions from that they are the healthiest generation,” says King. “But they are not in excellent health while they are waiting around to live two to three years longer. Unfortunately they may be living longer with a greater burden of chronic disease, and more disability. It’s not exactly a good public health outcome.”

The statistics presented in the study underscore King’s point. A shocking 75 percent of baby boomers suffer from high blood pressure, more than double the previous generation, and an NBC News report on the study says high cholesterol levels have doubled as well. Thirteen percent of the baby boomers also have some sort of physical limitation when it comes to performing daily tasks, the Time article says, up from 8.8 percent of the previous generation.

Perhaps predictably, the Time and NBC stories say obesity is likely to blame for these issues. More Americans are obese today than ever before (the NBC article reports the figure at 39 percent of baby boomers, considerably higher than 29 percent of individuals from the prior generation) and physical activity levels are low. In the NBC article, Dr. Robert Cato explains why being heavy results in so many health problems for baby boomers:

“Obesity makes you less functional,” says Cato, an associate professor of clinical medicine and chief of general internal medicine at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. “Obese patients get more arthritis. They don’t walk as well. They have more back pain – and they just don’t feel as well.”

Plus, drugs that treat obesity-related problems like high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure offer only palliative care, not a solution. As Dr. King says in the Time article:

“Medication use has definitely increased, so we are propping ourselves up on our canes and our medicines,” says King. “We are becoming over dependent on medications and surgical solutions rather than creating our own good health.”

If you ask us, this should be a wake-up call for the younger generations. We may be more aware of the risks associated with the heavy drinking and smoking of past generations, but we certainly are sedentary and fatter than ever. So get up, get moving, and learn from the mistakes of the baby boomers.