Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60

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Baby boomers aren’t as healthy as their parents were at the same age.

This sobering finding comes out of a RAND study that took a series of snapshots over a 24-year period of the health status of Americans when they were between the ages of 54 and 60.

The researchers found that overall health has deteriorated in this age group, and they identified the specific conditions that are getting worse, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing routine daily activities.

Obesity is an overarching problem: the share of people in this age group with class II obesity, which puts them at very high risk of diabetes, tripled to 15 percent between 1992 and 2016.

In addition to declining health, the study for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium uncovered strong evidence of growing health disparities among 54 to 60-year-olds: the poorest people are getting sicker faster than people with more wealth.

The increase in women’s pain levels has been starkest over the past 24 years. The wealthiest women have seen an increase of 6 percentage points in the share experiencing moderate to severe pain from conditions like joint or back pain. But the poorest women saw a 21-point leap. The disparity for men was also large: up 7 points for the wealthiest men versus 15 points for the poorest men.

The bottom line: today’s 54 to 60-year-olds are not as healthy as their parents were, and the study suggests that the disparities between rich and poor will continue to grow.

To read this study, authored by Peter Hudomiet, Michael D. Hurd, and Susann Rohwedder, see “Trends in Health and Mortality in the United States.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Dan O'Brien

This decline in markers of metabolic health seems to correlate with increased vulnerability to the pandemic. The vast majority of those who reach the ICU suffer from comorbidities. My takeaway is that metabolic dysfunction is tied to immune-system failure in ways we don’t yet understand. And a majority of U.S. adults are obese…

Edward Hoffer MD

The answer is not in the medical care system but in our personal behaviors. We need to walk more – there is a clear association between the number of steps walked daily and longevity. We need to eat less junk and not get in our cars to go half a mile to the store. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, not smoking and not drinking excessive alcohol can add 10 years to a middle-aged person’s life.


    Dr. Hoffer, I couldn’t agree more. An 80-something lady I knew walked miles every week. She broke her hip, and we feared for her recovery, only to see her up and back walking around, sprightly as ever, less than two months later.

    That lady lived many more years, well up into her 90s, with few health problems.

Geoffrey Hewitt

So why does the US spend twice per Capita of any other country in the world (at 3.75 Trillion in year 2018), now greater than the Federal budget, with worse outcomes and shorter life expectancy. Billing is king.

    Edward HofferMD

    I agree entirely that we get less bang for the buck for our health care dollars than any other country – read my book Prescription for Bankruptcy – where I flesh this out. There are many villains, in every sector. However, it is widely agreed that 80% of a nation’s health, as measured by factors such as average life expectancy, are NOT due to the healthcare “industry” but rather to social factors, where we lag most of the western world.

Jeremy Templeton

Hardly surprising – this has everything to do with individual choices. The silent generation were much more physically active for a variety of reasons. I suppose the exploding popularity of the internet, computers and handheld computing devices certainly haven’t helped. Still, the only way to resolve this is by focusing on personal responsibility.

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