From Our 2010 Archives

Baby Boomers May Outlive Their Kids

High Obesity Rates Set Younger Generation Up for Poor Health

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

April 9, 2010 -- Because of rising obesity rates among young people, more and more baby boomers may outlive their children.

A new study shows that a generational shift in obesity rates is setting the younger generation up for shorter life and poorer health in comparison to their parents.

"Our research indicates that higher numbers of young and middle-age American adults are becoming obese at younger and younger ages," researcher Joyce Lee, MD, MPH, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Michigan, says in a news release.

Researchers found that 20% of people born between 1966 and 1985 were obese in their 20s, an obesity prevalence milestone not reached by their parents until their 30s or by their grandparents until their 40s or 50s.

That means more Americans are getting heavier earlier in their lives and carrying the extra pounds for longer periods of time, which suggests that the impact for chronic disease and life expectancy may be worse than previously thought.

In the study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers compared national obesity rates for children and adults born between 1926 and 2005.

Recent research has shown that obesity rates have doubled among adults and tripled among children in the U.S., and researchers say more study is needed to understand how these trends will affect life expectancy and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers say current life expectancy predictions were based on obesity rates in 1988-1994, which was the midpoint of the obesity epidemic and included many older adults born in 1885-1976 who had much lower obesity rates over their lifetimes.

Their results showed that people born between 1966 and 1985 became obese at a much faster rate than people born in previous generations. Researchers found that 20% of people born in 1966-1985 were obese by 20-29 years of age. That prevalence of obesity was not reached until ages 50-59 for people born in 1926-1935 and until ages 40-49 for people born a decade later.

The study also showed that obesity rates were consistently higher among women and African-Americans than for men and whites. For example, among people aged 20-29, 20% of whites and 35% of African-Americans were obese.

But the percentage of men and African-Americans who became obese in the last decade of life was higher than among women and whites.

SOURCES: Lee, J. International Journal of Obesity, April 12, 2010; vol 34.

News release, University of Michigan.

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