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Boomers, Here's Your 10-Year Health Checkup

Boomer couple jogging

America’s boomers just got a 10-year health checkup, and the diagnosis is mixed: More are dealing with chronic conditions, especially high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but fewer are dying from cancer and heart disease, thanks to recent medical advances.

Additionally, fewer are smoking and slightly more are exercising — a small dose of good news.

The new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that the number of Americans ages 55 to 64 who have diabetes, are obese or have high blood pressure has slightly increased from a decade ago. The data was part of the CDC’s annual look at statistics on the health of all Americans; a special section in this year’s study focused on health trends among the heart of the baby boom generation.

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CDC researchers chose the boomers because the state of their health has significant implications for the health of Medicare.

“Within 10 years nearly all of this 55 to 64 age group will be covered by Medicare, a payer under financial pressure to serve current and future enrollees,” the researchers wrote. Boomers can expect to live another 19 to 27 years, the report notes, so the fact that more are suffering from chronic disease is a warning sign for the health care system.

And while deaths from heart disease have decreased over the past 10 years, one prominent cardiologist says the overall report “is not encouraging news for baby boomers.” With 51 percent of boomers having high blood pressure, 40 percent with obesity, and 19 percent with diabetes, this shows a “strong need for different, novel approaches for addressing prevention of disease and management of chronic diseases,” Valentin Fuster, physician in chief of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said in an email.

Here are some of the report’s key findings.

Fewer deaths: The overall death rate fell from 2003 to 2013. Deaths from cancer, the leading cause of death, were 14 percent lower for men in 2013 compared with 2003, and 18 percent lower for women during the same period. The death rate for heart disease was 19 percent lower for men in 2013, and 24 percent lower for women. In contrast, unintentional-injury death rates were 31 percent higher in 2013, driven by drug-poisoning deaths that were three times higher than they were a decade earlier.

Continued chronic disease: From 2009 to 2012, 19 percent of people ages 55 to 64 had diabetes, about 40 percent were obese and more than half (51.4 percent) had high blood pressure — levels basically the same as a decade earlier. Half (50.1 percent) had high cholesterol, up from 39 percent during 1999 to 2002.

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More prescriptions: From 2009 to 2012, nearly half (45 percent) of boomers said they had taken a prescription cardiovascular drug in the past 30 days, nearly one-third (32 percent) had taken a cholesterol-lowering drug, 16 percent had used prescription gastric-reflux medication and 14 percent had used a prescription antidepressant.

More colonoscopies, fewer mammograms. More boomers got preventive vaccines in 2012-2013 compared to 2002-2003, including nearly 50 percent getting flu shots and 35 percent getting a pneumonia vaccine. Colorectal screening shot up to nearly 60 percent in 2013 from 40 percent in 2003. However, use of mammograms and Pap smears was lower, dropping from 85 percent to about 76 percent.

Fewer cigarette smokers: Only about 18 percent of boomers were cigarette smokers during 2012 to 2013, compared with nearly 20 percent during 2002 to 2003. Among the poor, however, the rate of cigarette smoking continues to be much higher.

Increased exercising: The number of older adults who exercise is still low, but there was a moderate increase over the past decade. Those who got enough weekly aerobic or muscle-strengthening activity to meet federal guidelines rose from about 13 percent during 2002 to 2003 to about 16 percent during 2012 to 2013. Federal guidelines recommend that adults perform at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both. Muscle-strengthening activities should be performed on two or more days a week.

Photo: jonya/iStock

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