(NaturalNews) Contrary to the assumption that quality of life increases with each generation, baby boomers are actually significantly less healthy and more disabled than their parents were at the same age, according to a study conducted by researchers from the West Virginia University School of Medicine and published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
"The perception is that the baby boomers are very active - they are, you know, climbing up mountains, and they are a very healthy bunch," lead author Dana King said. "We actually see people that are burdened with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, [and] who are taking an awful lot of medication."
The baby boomer generation is traditionally defined as people born in the United States between 1946 and 1964. There are currently 75 million living baby boomers.
Living longer, but sicker
The researchers compared data from two separate National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys, conducted from 1988-1994 and 2007-2010, respectively. The analysis was limited to people who had been between the ages of 46 and 64 during the time of the survey. Questions were asked about topics including health status, lifestyle characteristics, presence of chronic disease, and disability.
The researchers found that baby boomers can indeed be expected to live longer than their parents; the mortality rate of the average 59-year-old in 2005, for example, was 14 percent lower than in 1997. But the boomers are far unhealthier by both subjective and objective measures.
Only 13 percent of baby boomers considered themselves to be in "excellent health" when surveyed, compared with 33 percent of the prior generation. Twice as many boomers said they were in "poor health" compared with their parents. Baby boomers also suffered from dramatically higher levels of chronic disease and disability.
"The proportion of people with diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity [is] increasing," King said. "And perhaps even more disturbing, the proportion of people who are disabled increased substantially."
Twice as many baby boomers need a cane or walker to move around, compared with the prior generation. The increase was even higher in rates of disabilities so bad that they prevent people from working.
Health likely to worsen
King attributed the worsened health to increased rates of obesity and inactivity, noting that there are now more labor-saving appliances and devices than ever before. Prior generations were also more likely to walk or ride bicycles.
"About half of people 20 years ago said they exercised regularly, which meant three times a week, and that rate now is only about 18 percent," King said. "That's an astonishing change in just one generation."
52 percent of baby boomers surveyed said that they got no physical exercise at all, in comparison with only 17 percent a generation before. Likewise, 40 percent of baby boomers are obese, compared with only 29 percent of their parents at the same age.
The health problems of baby boomers are only likely to worsen as they age, King warned.
"The baby boomers are going into those high medical-use years in much worse condition than their forefathers," he said.