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WVU: Baby boomers in worse health than their parents

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Despite having a reputation of being the healthiest and most active generation, baby boomers are actually in worse overall health than their parents, according to a new study by researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

Dr. Dana King, chairman of the WVU Department of Family Medicine and lead author on the study, said he and his team were somewhat surprised to find that boomers weren't as healthy as previously believed. In fact, baby boomers have higher levels of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and higher rates of disability than their parents.

To conduct the study, King and his team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (NHANES), including NHANES III (1988-1994) and the NHANES for 2007-2010, focusing on respondents who were 46-64 years old during either period. The two cohorts were compared in regard to health status, functional and work disability, healthy lifestyle characteristics, and presence of chronic disease.

In addition, while life expectancy is higher for boomers than it was for the previous generation, more boomers are unhealthy by their own admission. King said only one in 10 baby boomers reported being in excellent health compared to one-third of their parents who reported the same.

According to the National Association of Baby Boomers, the generation includes those born between 1946 and 1964, totaling 75 million people. It is the largest group of consumers in the nation.

King said that as baby boomers move into their 60s and 70s, they will utilize the health care system more than ever before. Doctors' offices will be busier than ever before, and the need for healthcare professionals will skyrocket in the next decade.

The study, "The Status of Baby Boomers' Health in the United States: The Healthiest Generation?," will appear in the March issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. It was published online on Feb. 4.