Generation shows higher rates of obesity, high cholesterol

By Mac McLean / The Bulletin

Published: June 21. 2013 4:00AM PST

Some bad habits baby boomers have picked up over the past 50 to 60 years could finally be catching up with them.

A recent study found that while baby boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — smoke less, they have higher rates of obesity, high cholesterol and other lifestyle-related illnesses than the generation before them did when its members were their age.

This could cause a problem for the country’s largest generation as it retires because many of these illnesses can lead to chronic or hard-to-treat conditions that require expensive care, said Sean Rogers, medical director with Bend Memorial Clinic.

“There’s no question about that,” Rogers said, adding these higher health care costs will hit the Medicare system pretty hard.

Researchers at University of California-San Francisco Department of Medicine and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center used nearly a decade’s worth of data to compare boomers with the previous generation, also known as the Silent Generation, in terms of overall health.

They used data from federal health surveys between 1988 and 1994 to evaluate the Silent Generation’s health when its members were between the ages of 46 and 64 and compared that with data collected from the 2007-10 surveys to evaluate the health of boomers when they were the same age.

Some of their results are startling.

According to the study, 32 percent of Silent Generation individuals said they were in excellent health during their mid-40s and mid-60s while only 13.2 percent of boomers thought that way about their health.

The study found 38.7 percent of boomers were obese, or had a body mass index of 30 and higher. Members of the Silent Generation had an obesity rate of 29 percent.

A greater percentage of boomers also took medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes than their predecessors did, according to the study’s results (See “Boomer Health.”)

Rogers said the higher incidence of these three health problems can be tied directly to the fact the boomers grew up and developed their eating patterns in the post-World War II era when they had easy access to high-calorie food that was cheap and abundant.

“Now you can go to a McDonald’s, spend a dollar and get a hamburger,” he said, comparing this time of relative prosperity to the Great Depression and World War II – the years the Silent Generation came of age – when food was scarce and sometimes rationed.

But the reasons behind the boomers’ health problems aren’t limited to their eating habits, Rogers said. They also have a lot to do with boomers’ living a sedentary lifestyle where they drive to work, sit behind a desk most of the day and spend their evenings watching television.

The study found only 35 percent of boomers exercised more than 12 times a month – compared to 49.9 percent of the Silent Generation’s members – while 52.2 percent of them reported getting no regular exercise at all.

This final statistic, though, may not apply to Central Oregon.

“Bend is an incredibly active community,” Rogers said, reflecting on the eight years he’s practiced medicine in the region.

Because they lead such an active lifestyle, Rogers said it’s safe to assume Central Oregon’s boomers get more exercise than boomers who live in other parts of the country and, as a result, are likely to have a lower incidence of obesity, high cholesterol and other lifestyle-related ailments than their peers.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com

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