By COLLEEN CREAMER
Just when you thought you understood. Research from the University of Pennsylvania and Carleton University published by the Bureau of Economic Research and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, shows a disturbing trend: We of the boomer ilk are likely aging in worse health than our parents. We, the “vibrant” generation, less healthy than our parents who speared hunks of bread into hot cheese in the fondue pot?
It’s true. The report’s data reveal that we in our fifties are having more difficulty climbing stairs and doing other routine activities. As well, we are reporting more chronic problems such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.
The researchers compared the self-reported health of 20,000 people in three groups, ages 66 to 71, 60 to 65 and ages 54 to 59. The survey began in 1992 and draws from survey respondents’ answers to questions about their health when they were 51 and 56.
The study was performed across a timeline long enough to show that there had been a dramatic decline in disability in the last two decades. Researchers noted, however, that given the new data, that decline could be in jeopardy as boomers age further. There’s the expected shortage of health-care workers to manage the crisis. In addition, the Medicare system could be drained. Not huge news but something to consider as we ponder how time did not actually stand still for us as we had planned.
It’s complicated. For one thing, along with TV came TV dinners and the whole prepackaged food and fast-food industry. This is one of the major reasons health experts believe Americans are getting fatter. We are also working more, sleeping less, are in more debt and exercising less than our parents, the study states. And we have less extended family and, consequently, less emotional support.
Also, baby boomers may have higher expectations of their later years. Because we are more in touch (more “evolved” some might say) we may just be acutely aware that we are not in the best of health or that we are not aging as gracefully as we thought we would have. Consequently, we could more willing to complain about aches and pains than our parents.
We may better understand the basics of health …
But that still doesn’t mean we heed what we know. The data show fewer numbers of us smoke than those of our parents’ generation. But we certainly did not escape the obesity epidemic — nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight — even though this generation is well aware of things like good and bad fats and the perils of highly-refined foods.
“The current and expanding epidemic of obesity and the metabolic syndrome has fueled an increase in cardiovascular disease,” says ReZoom’s health and wellness expert. Dr. Mark Houston. “The insulin resistant state is characterized by obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance and other manifestations.”
… todays pre-retirees could reach retirement age in worse shape than their predecessors, with individuals potentially in poorer health than current retirees and possibly increasing health care costs for society.
– the NBER study.
So even though we act as if we care about our health, many of us are having a hard time getting off the couch and pulling the dusty kayak out of the garage. Apparently, despite all those gym memberships less of us are showing up. Add this to a daily desk routine where email has eliminated walking down the hall, and the modern lifestyle looks grimmer.
The report tracks earlier studies that do suggest that the obesity epidemic is, in fact, driving higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Those extra pounds may be making our joints wear out more quickly and raising our cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Reason for pause
Boomers tended to report more stress overall than earlier generations — from jobs, commutes, taking care of aging parents as well as their children. All of the stress is taking a toll. In the study, boomers were considerably less likely than their predecessors to describe their health as “excellent” or “very good.” They were also more likely to report drinking and psychiatric problems.
There is much to be made of the results of the study and what it means for our futures. Is it a wake-up call for us to take stock? And if we don’t, will it be a call to arms by the generation beneath us who will have to hold us up, literally and financially?