By 2050, the U.N. estimates for the first time ever, the world population will have more people over age 65 than children age 5 and younger [source: Singer]. America is certainly doing its part to contribute, as baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- begin to enter their retirement years.
The health and wellness of the boomer generation has far-reaching implications, from public policy and taxation to climbing insurance costs and the rise of new health care industries that cater to this older demographic.
The health care system will certainly have its hands full as boomers continue to retire in droves. By 2030, about 60 percent of boomers will experience more than one chronic health condition [source: American Hospital Association]. As it is, 62 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64 currently have at least one chronic condition as a result of obesity (such as high cholesterol or heart disease) [source: Trust for America's Health]. It's estimated that by 2030, around 25 percent of boomers will have diabetes [source: American Hospital Association].
Clearly, we'll be hearing a lot in the years to come about the health of baby boomers. So keep reading for a look at the top 10 baby boomer health trends.
In 2030, there will be nearly three times as many people over the age of 65 than there were in 1980 [source: American Hospital Association]. This means boomers, as a group, will be needing -- and receiving -- more medical attention than any previous same-aged demographic.
Not only are greater medical capabilities available to boomers compared to decades past, there is more information available to them than ever before. Boomers are taking advantage of the ability to seek out and find medical information online, enabling them to ask precise questions when visiting with a doctor (and enabling them to understand the answers, as well). Online information provides instant access to a "second opinion," or at least to the data they need that may prompt a request for a second opinion. Boomers can now learn about new medical breakthroughs and developments as they're made available online, allowing them to ask health care providers about specific tests or procedures that may benefit them.
Health care providers will also benefit from increased medical awareness of boomers. Between 1996 and 2006, outpatient physician visits for people 55 to 64 increased by 13 percent [source: Elliott]. With more boomers reaching retirement age, this trend will be difficult to reverse, but a more-informed and health-conscious patient demographic could help turn back the tide.
Doctors aren't the only ones paying more attention to boomers, as we'll discuss next.
Americans over the age of 50 are responsible for half of all discretionary spending in the United States [source: Rogers]. Boomers also have the lowest unemployment rate of any age group in America [source: Carter]. So it's no surprise that, with their relatively deep pockets, stable financial footing and sheer numbers, boomers have the full attention of marketers and producers of medical goods and services.
Just as their business has been coveted at every stage of their collective development, boomers will continue to find that companies looking to tap into this large demographic will anticipate their medical wants and needs.
As such, there will be a growing effort to develop and sell to boomers devices aimed at extending personal independence, or "aging in place." As boomers move through their 80s, 90s and beyond, there will be increased demand -- and the supply to meet it -- for services and products that facilitate wellness and mobility. This means boomers will be bombarded with ads for everything from vitamins to video games that are purported to prevent or delay dementia.
Market-driven increases in medical research will be beneficial for boomers, but they'll also be pitched plenty of devices and services that don't deliver as promised, meaning that there will also be a growing market for services that help boomers decide which is which.
Next: When boomers speak, others listen.
For politicians looking for votes, or researchers looking to make a mark, baby boomers represent the go-to generation. With more than 100 million Americans now over the age of 50, their votes and dollars are recognized as being more important than ever.
While most Americans support trimming the deficit, few politicians will attach their names (or keep them attached) to legislation that would save money by cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Even when doing so makes sense on paper, it begins to make a lot less sense when you're facing a town hall full of fired-up boomers. Older Americans tend to be more politically active, and such a large voting bloc carries a lot of influence with elected officials, especially when many of those elected officials are themselves nearing retirement age.
As we'll next learn, demand for coffee won't be easing up anytime soon.
Boomers know a thing or two when it comes to getting a boost of energy. In 2008, 61 percent of people between the ages of 40 and 59 drank coffee every day, while only 47 percent of those between 25 and 39 did so on a daily basis [source: National Coffee Association]. However, nearly three in four consumers over the age of 60 had drunk coffee in the past day when interviewed in 2010 [source: National Coffee Association].
Many studies show coffee -- and its antioxidant properties -- may help prevent age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, and such findings are sure to boost coffee's (already sky-high) appeal to baby boomers, whose coffee habits really don't need further encouragement [source: Fox News].
One study found that the more coffee a person drank, the lower the risk of prostate cancer -- regardless of whether it was regular or decaf [source: Wilson]. In fact, it's not believed that coffee's health benefits are derived from its caffeine, but rather from compounds it contains such as caffeic and chlorogenic acids [source: Fox News]. However, heavy coffee drinkers may experience elevated blood pressure and crashes that follow each boost from caffeine [source: Sheps].
Boomers also represent a growing market for energy drinks and energy pills, the long-term health effects of which still aren't clear [source: Bauerlein].
With perhaps the exception of the coffee shop, boomers aren't going anywhere anytime soon, as we'll discuss in the next section.
American boomers are expected to live longer than any previous generation. In addition to living longer, boomers are also likely to remain independent and live in their own homes longer, as well. This will have many implications.
The field of home health care will continue to grow, and providers and policy makers alike will struggle to meet the demand for services. Boomers will also need to stretch retirement savings out longer, and may increasingly turn to financial arrangements such as reverse mortgages in order to secure continued cash flow. Due to the number of boomers who will be collecting benefits, Social Security is expected to begin paying out more than it takes in as early as 2017, and will be the focus of policy debate for years to come [source: Weston].
Next we'll discuss pharmaceutical companies and boomers.
Anyone who's got a fear of needles has one question on their mind when a physician or nurse produces one: "Does that come in pill form?" Now more than ever in America, it does.
These days, prescription medications are available for any malady (especially if you consider brittle eyelashes and the like to be a malady). Whether it's pain relief, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction or any number of other conditions, there's a pill available that can take care of it.
Between 1996 and 2006, there was about a 25 percent increase in the number of people between the ages of 55 and 64 who received more than five prescriptions during a hospital visit [source: Elliott]. Heavy use of prescription drugs can lead to dependence on and abuse of prescription drugs, which are in fact the most commonly abused controlled substance [source: Hille].
One study found that 83 percent of nursing home residents took antipsychotic medications, meaning many are at risk of being overmedicated [source: CNN].
How active are boomers compared to previous generations? Keep reading to find out.
Whether it's about losing weight, lowering blood pressure, or increasing energy and longevity, doctors and researchers have long touted the benefits of regular exercise. This message hasn't been lost on the boomers, who have over the years helped several exercise "fads" go mainstream, such as jogging, aerobics and neighborhood fitness gyms.
Compared to older generations, fitness and exercise are more culturally ingrained in the minds -- and daily routines -- of baby boomers.
As more and more boomers reach retirement age, there's a generational focus on longevity and delaying the physical and visible effects of aging. So it's no surprise that many boomers view exercise as a key ingredient to a longer, healthier and happier life.
One study showed that active people enjoyed 16 additional years of healthy living than did sedentary people [AARP]. Exercise also seems to delay effects of dementia down the road, as well as improve the functioning of joints.
There is, however, a downside to all this exercise on the part of the boomers. Their active lifestyles frequently land boomers in ER rooms, doctors' offices and sports medicine clinics because their bodies can't always keep up with the demands placed on them.
But for those who know when to say "when," exercise is a readily accessible fountain of youth, or at least one way to delay aging.
But, as we'll next discuss, they don't make retirees like they used to.
Compared to previous generations, baby boomers grew up in a decidedly less agrarian world. Raised in the same era that ushered in suburbs, many boomers consider both farm and factory to be foreign environments. Instead, they were more likely than their parents to find work in an office environment, thus avoiding the physically exhausting and often dangerous lines of work that filled the lives of previous generations.
But that's not the only difference: Compared to previous generations, one study found that people between the ages of 50 and 64 are more likely to need assistance with personal-care activities due to medical conditions [source: Elliott]. Another study found worsened levels of health among those age 60 to 69 [source: Aldridge].
Results may also be skewed due to better and earlier detection of disease, which may actually translate for boomers into increased wellness and longevity.
Increasing concern over health and obesity may also be the catalyst behind increased consciousness of dietary decisions, which we'll discuss next.
Whether they've been reading food-product labels for years, or have become more conscious of their diets because of high cholesterol or blood pressure, boomers are paying more attention than previous generations to food choices.
This is a good thing, since so much of the food available is pretty unhealthy, whether it comes from a fast-food restaurant or the neighborhood grocery store.
One survey indicated that four in five boomers are more food conscious, more attentive to food labels and know more about the origins of their food products than they did in 1980 [source: Whole Foods Market]. The same survey showed that more Americans -- boomers included -- are buying organic food items, and a larger percentage of their grocery purchases are organic products than they were in years past.
This is due in part to concerns over food quality, the use of additives, insecticides and other unnatural products during food production and preparation, and a greater concern about environmental practices.
Of course, as we'll find out next, moderation isn't always so easy.
While baby boomers are living longer than any previous generation, they also have the dubious distinction of having the highest rates of obesity for their age bracket than any other generation. In 1994, 31 percent of those between the ages of 55 and 64 were obese; by 2002, the rate had climbed to 39 percent [source: Trust for America's Health].
Not only are baby boomers more obese than the previous generation, they became more obese at an earlier age, and women in their 50s are the most likely to be obese [source: Trust for America's Health].
Boomers have a lot to gain by losing a little. Many already have obesity-related health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Recent research indicates that an average reduction of 3.74 pounds (1.7 kilograms) per person would result in 178,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease and 890,000 fewer diabetics [source: Goodwin].
One study even found that adults between ages 60 and 74 were four times more likely to be depressed if they were obese [source: Pappas]. And obesity and aging joints is not a good mix, meaning that creaking knees will suffer more wear and tear when holding up someone who enjoys an extra trip back to the buffet table.
Fortunately, there are lots of weight-loss options available for boomers, and all the good ones revolve around an age-old formula for shedding pounds: eating less and exercising more. That's something any generation can get behind.
Keep reading for lots more information about baby boomer health trends.
Baby boomers should get weight-bearing exercise to improve bone health and balance. See the top five reasons for baby boomers to get weight-bearing exercise.
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- Wilson, Kathryn M. "Coffee Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk and Progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study." Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Apr. 1, 2011. (June 10, 2011) http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/05/17/jnci.djr151.abstract