For those in their 20s and 30s, consider this a wake up call: Research now suggests that baby boomers may not live longer than their parents, as a collection of studies surrounding those born between 1946 and 1964 suggests their health is on the decline.
S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been studying the longevity of baby boomers under a MacArthur Foundation Grant. And based on his findings thus far, he predicts noticeable drops in this generation’s lifespan.
“If you look at the health status of the baby boom versus the generation that just preceded them, they are in worse shape,” Olshanksy told Reuters in a recent interview. He added that health experts are seeing greater frailty, increased risk for cardiovascular disease and declining cognitive function among this generation.
With improvements in healthcare, innovative drugs, and increasing life expectancies among most age groups, it’s been an assumption that baby boomers would easily outlive their parents’ generation. However, because of factors like obesity and cancer, their lifespans may be cut short.
The primary factors that threaten baby boomer longevity include obesity, cancer, smoking and suicide, with extreme obesity being an additional concern.
According to research from both Rutgers and Emory University, those between the ages of 48 and 67 show a greater propensity to suicide than previous generations. More specifically, male baby boomers see higher suicide rates in their teens and early 20s, with an average of 26 suicides per 100,000. This is compared to the generation directly preceding them, which only saw an average of 20 suicides per 100,000 lives.
In addition, suicide has become particularly common among baby boomers in their 40s, claiming roughly as many lives as breast cancer among women.
Obesity is considered more of a grey area when it comes to baby boomer health, as they, unlike younger generations, were not typically overweight as children. But still, researchers predict obesity to reach alarming rates by 2040, with estimations that it will reduce life expectancy by 0.733 percent in men and 0.677 percent in women.
While common risk factors tied to obesity include diabetes and heart disease, shortened life expectancy isn’t as severe of a concern as modern medicine is able to lessen and often treat these condition.
Perhaps the most obvious of major health threats is cancer, with almost everyone today knowing at least one person who has been affected by this unpredictable disease. According to recent findings, 45- to 59-year-olds saw around 570 cases of cancer per 100,000 people in 2009, which was up 7 percent from 1985.
Women are seeing especially high risks in this area, and experts predict that female boomers will continue seeing more cases of lung, skin and other cancers. One of the major causes of this is smoking, as experts report that female baby boomers are the heaviest smoking population in U.S. history.
No matter how you look at it, baby boomers seem to have a far less hopeful future than was predicted. And unless they make some serious changes in their health, the prediction of a shorter lifespan may become a reality.