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Are baby boomers healthier than previous generations?

In 1850, the average man had a typical body mass index (BMI) of 23. Fast forward 150 years to the year 2000, and we find that the male frame lengthened and widened to a BMI of 28.2, stretching to the edge of obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 40 to 59, otherwise referred to as baby boomers-have the highest incidence of obesity. Of that group, 40 percent of men and 41 percent of women were deemed obese in 2007. Their parents, however, had a decreased overall rate of obesity.

In 2000, around 35 percent of all deaths in the United States could have been averted if people stopped smoking, adhered to a diet and exercised. Baby boomers get a gold star for their efforts to quit smoking but fail when it comes to the latter two health issues. Being overweight and obese drastically increases the likelihood that a person will develop chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes. Extra weight puts further wear and tear on the body's muscles and joints and decreases mobility.

Recent statistics have initially proved this grim health trend. A survey sponsored by the National Institute on Aging looked at the health status of 20,000 baby boomers ages 51 through 56. Compared to the previous generation in the same age bracket, baby boomers fell behind. The younger group actually described more consistent pain and chronic health conditions. Even with low-impact movements such as the of climbing stairs, getting up from a chair and lifting their arms over their heads, baby boomers reported less mobility than their ancestors. In addition, boomers have a higher incidence of alcoholism and psychiatric problems.

How did this better educated and wealthier generation of Americans permit its collective health to drastically decline? The American lifestyle has moved significantly from active to sedentary and from community-oriented to socially isolating. Stress is more prevalent in the daily life of an adult, which produces depression and health issues, such as hypertension and high blood pressure. The end result of those factors is reduced health and chronic medical problems.

Certainly, many older adults remain physically engaged and watch their health closely. Data from the CDC also demonstrates strong participation in preventative healthcare initiatives. But as retirement lurks on the horizon, baby boomers' health becomes even more critical.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.