Do You Think Baby Boomers Are Healthy?

Published In Health & Safety

February 19th, 2016

Much has been written recently about the “graying” of the world’s population. In fact, the U.N. estimates that by 2050, the world population will have more people over age 65 than children age 5 and younger  (New York Times, Feb 5, 2011).

The health and wellness of the boomer generation has far-reaching implications for the cost of health care, housing needs and who will take care of society’s old. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day, it’s critical to keep them healthy and active.

Baby Boomers at Risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 55 to 64 year olds have about 19 to 27 years of life expectancy remaining and are at growing risk of developing chronic conditions. Unfortunately, these figures are relatively unchanged from a decade earlier. Key findings for the baby boom generation include:

  • 19% have diabetes
  • 51% have hypertension
  • 40% are obese

And not only are Baby Boomers more obese than the previous generation, they became more obese at an earlier age, and women in their 50s are the most likely to be obese (America’s Health Rankings).

The use of medications is no less startling for this generation. As the CDC indicates:

  • 45% of baby boomers take a cardiovascular drug
  • 32% take a cholesterol–lowering drug
  • 16% use prescription gastric reflux medications in the past 30 days
  • 13% take an antidiabetic agent
  • 14% use a prescription antidepressant

Between 1996 and 2006, there was about a 25% increase in the number of people between the ages of 55 and 64 who received more than five prescriptions during a hospital visit (AMA, 2010). Heavy use of prescription drugs can lead to dependence on and abuse of prescription drugs, which are in fact the most commonly abused controlled substance  (Washington Examiner, June 13, 2013).

The Costs of Health Care

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, total personal healthcare expenditures grew from $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion between 2003 and 2013. In that same time period, the average annual growth in expenditures was:

  • Medicare 7.2%,
  • Medicaid (federal)  4.7%
  • Medicaid (state)  5.7%
  • Private health insurance 4.8%
  • Out-of-pocket spending 3.6%

Boomers and Mobility

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a national snapshot of health measures and behaviors conducted by the U.S. government, compared Baby Boomers aged 46 years to 64 years between 2007 and 2010 to similar aged Americans in 1988 to 1994. Overall, only 13% of baby boomers rated their health as ‘excellent’ while nearly three times as many (32%) of those in the previous generation considered themselves in excellent health. Seven percent of baby boomers use a cane or other device to help them walk, compared to 3% in the previous generation; and 13% of boomers have some limitations in their ability to perform their everyday tasks compared to 8.8% of those in the earlier cohort.

Health and Nutrition

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the challenge of meeting dietary needs will grow as boomers confront shrinking incomes and, potentially, fewer social contacts in their retirement years. While the study says it’s hard to predict how living on a fixed income will affect eating habits, it did find that many people have begun to limit fast food purchases because of concerns about high amounts of calories, sodium, and saturated fat. However, less income means less money to eat at places that may offer a wider array of healthful choices. The situation is made more complicated by the fact that many retirees would rather not cook a big meal if they are only cooking for themselves or one other person.

Boomers and Housing

Because the vast majority of baby boomers intend to “age in place”, accommodating this preference relies largely on communities planning for the current and future needs of this generation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center formed a Health and Housing Task Force to underscore the connection between the health care and housing fields. The task force grows out of the BPC Housing Commission that identified accommodating the desire of seniors to age in place as one of the major public-policy challenges in the coming decades.

A number of priorities were identified, including:

  • Identify cost-effective ways to modify homes to make living for seniors safe & viable
  • Increase the supply of affordable housing for seniors with supportive services
  • Identify barriers to the integration of acute care and home & community-based services
  • Highlight best practices for integrating housing and health care services

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