In 1850, the average man had a normal body mass index (BMI) of 23. Fast forward to 2000, and the male frame elongated and ballooned to a BMI of 28.2, teetering on the brink of obesity [source: Kolata]. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 40 to 59 -- aka baby boomers -- have the highest prevalence of obesity. Of that group, 40 percent of men and 41 percent of women were obese in 2007 [source: CDC]. Their parents, however, had a lower overall obesity rate.
In 2000, smoking cessation, diet and exercise could have prevented around 35 percent of the deaths in the United States [source: CDC]. Baby boomers get a gold star for their nonsmoking efforts but fail when it comes to the latter two health initiatives. Being overweight and obese drastically increases a person's chance of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. It puts extra wear and tear on the body's muscles and joints and reduces mobility.
Recent statistics have initially confirmed this grim health trend. A survey sponsored by the National Institute on Aging examined the health status of 20,000 baby boomers between 51 and 56. Stacked up against the previous generation during the same age bracket, baby boomers lagged behind. The younger set actually reported the most consistent pain and chronic health conditions [source: National Institute on Aging]. Even with low-impact activities of climbing stairs, getting up from a chair and lifting their arms over their heads, baby boomers reported less mobility than their predecessors [source: The Washington Post]. In addition, boomers have a higher prevalence of alcoholism and psychiatric problems [source: Soldo et al].
How did the most educated and wealthiest generation of Americans to date allow its collective health to fall by the wayside? The American lifestyle has largely shifted from active to sedentary and from community-oriented to socially isolating. Adults experience more stress in their hectic daily lives, which breeds depression and health problems, such as hypertension and high blood pressure. The net result of those factors is poor health and chronic ailments.
Certainly, many older adults remain physically active and monitor their health closely. Data from the CDC also indicates strong participation in preventative healthcare, such as mammograms and cancer screenings. But as retirement looms on the horizon, baby boomers' health becomes even more crucial. Those extra years tacked on to life expectancy in the past century should be cause for celebration, not angst.