CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Baby boomers, long thought of as a robust, lively lot, are actually in poorer health than their parents' generation.
That's what a recent study found, one authored in part by two doctors with West Virginia University.
It compared the health of baby boomers, that post-war generation born between 1946 and 1964, with the generation that came before them.
"The baby boomers have a reputation for being active, health conscious," said Dana King, the study's lead author and a professor of family medicine at WVU. "But that's not what we felt like we were seeing in our practices, so we embarked on this study."
Researchers mined a pile of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination, a comprehensive survey used to track and assess the health of Americans since 1971.
They focused on individuals aged 46 to 64 at the time they were surveyed, looking at their health status, lifestyle characteristics and chronic disease. It was the first study to compare the generations directly, with an evidence-based approach. The findings, published online Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, were surprising to its authors and many in the field:
Baby boomers have higher levels of hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol than their parents. They're more likely to be disabled. Twice as many baby boomers reported they were in poor health and only 13 percent reported that they were in excellent health, compared to 33 percent of people in the last generation.
The boomers have improved on their parents in some key health indicators: they're less likely to smoke or have emphysema or have suffered a heart attack.
But even though boomers have a longer life expectancy than their parents - no doubt the product of advances in medicine - the study shows that they're not as healthy through their lifetime. Boomers may be expected to live to be 78 (a generation ago life expectancy was around 75) but they're doing it with a lower quality of life.
Twice as many people from the baby boom generation have to use a cane or walker to get around.
King is preaching the virtues of exercise and healthy eating, as well as preventative health care, to ward off ill health as the boomers age.