Are Boomers Really Living Longer?

Boomers are generally identified as those born between 1946 and 1964, and according to statistics over 10 million Canadians and 78 million Americans fall into this category. Studies show that those turning 65 today are living almost 5 ½ years longer than a person who reached 65 in 1950. This appears to be good news; bolstered by media and government actions that suggest the trend will continue.

Marc Freedman’s recent story in the Wall Street Journal – How to Make the Most of Longer Lives, identified ways in which we might fill those added days. Studies are being done on what impact a longer lifespan will have on the economy and the health system, with the goal to not only live longer, but live better. The future sounds pretty darn good.

There is just one little issue.

Is it true that we are living longer? Dr Elizabeth Badley et al, University of Toronto, published research findings in the Milbank Quarterly this spring that challenged the commonly held belief that we are in fact living longer. “We found no evidence to support the expectation that baby boomers will age more or less healthily than previous cohorts did.”

Dr. Badley attributed the shift to an obesity epidemic. After an exhaustive analysis of Canadian health records from 1994 and 2010, she and her team found that the benefits of education, affluence, and reduced tobacco use over the years were almost neutralized by the rising incidence of obesity among baby boomers.

In his paper – The Aging of the Baby Boomer Generation: Catastrophe or Catalyst for Improvement?, Dr Andrew Wister at Simon Fraser University, stated “a review of studies examining eating habits suggests that the tendency for portion sizes to bulge and food quality to decline has likely cancelled moderate improvements in exercise level for the boomer generation.”

Carol Goar, Toronto Star columnist, summarized it best in her June 23, 2015 article Wake Up Call for Overweight Baby Boomers – For many years “medical technology was improving, people were becoming more knowledgeable about their health, once deadly diseases were being reduced to manageable conditions and life expectancy was going up. But over time, those positive trends were undercut by changes in North American behavior. First, home cooked meals dwindled, then physical activity fell off, while stress levels and nutrition related chronic diseases spread. Hypertension, stroke, cancer and dementia may not kill people but they limit their ability to travel, socialize, eat out, play golf, go back to school or do voluntary work.”

More needs to be done to identify contributing factors and provide methods to improve diets, address negative eating patterns, and increase daily physical activity. Although the government has a responsibility, we each need to look in the mirror and make the decision on what we can do today to help ourselves have a healthier tomorrow.
When you know better – you do better. It’s time we took action to do better.

Sandra Downey