Over-60s suffer more illnesses caused by bad diet and lack of exercise
By Fiona Macrae
14th November 2009
They were the first to enjoy free health care, and had the time of
their lives in the Swinging Sixties.
But the post-war 'baby boomers' are now paying the price.
Today's 60-year-olds are the first modern generation to be less
healthy than their immediate predecessors.
Despite improvements in medicine and standards of living, they are
more likely to be blighted by problems from aching knees and creaking
hips to diabetes, asthma and strokes.
Even simple tasks such as getting in and out of bed or climbing ten
steps without a rest prove a challenge.
And with fast food, lack of exercise and a growing reliance on
computers and other technology, the future could be even bleaker.
Researcher Teresa Seeman said: 'The baby boomers, whatever health
benefits they've enjoyed up until now, may not enjoy such a rosy old age.'
Professor Seeman compared the health of thousands of men and women in
their 60s, 70s and 80s with data on different people of the same age
collected ten years earlier.
She found that one in five of the 60-somethings polled needed help
with basic day-to-day activities - up more than 50 per cent on a
Those just over 60 are 70 per cent more likely to have difficulty
walking from room to room, getting in and out of bed and eating or dressing.
Their problems did not end there. They were also 50 per cent more
likely to have trouble walking a quarter of a mile or climbing ten
steps without a rest.
Stooping, crouching, kneeling and getting up from a chair proved 40
per cent more troublesome, the American Journal of Public Health reports.
Although the data was collected in the U.S., the researchers say
there is no reason to believe the UK is not similarly affected.
British adults, for instance, are the second fattest in the developed
world after the U.S.
Professor Seeman, of the University of California, warned that as
more baby boomers enter their 60s and 70s, the trend will have
'significant and sobering' implications.
'The growing number of individuals aged 60 and older will place
ever-growing demands on the health care system. Increased levels of
disability, particularly among the youngest of older adults, may also
negatively affect economic productivity.'
She said younger people could also lose out if they have to 'compete
with older people for scarce resources in an overburdened healthcare system'.
British experts echoed the warning. Cary Cooper, professor of health
psychology at Lancaster University, said our ever-growing reliance on
technology is harming our health.
And he warned that the impact will be even greater in years to come,
with the pensioners of the future having spent many more years
sitting in front of a computer than those of today.
Professor Cooper, who is in his 60s, said: 'The public health message
is to be active, climb the stairs, don't take lifts. It sounds
trivial but it is not.
'Being active is good for psychological as well as physical health
because you are relating to people in some way other than through a screen.'
Earlier this week, research suggested that those born in 1948 in
Britain were the' lucky generation' because they benefited hugely
from the end of National Service, the right to free education and
healthcare and the property boom.
But the U.S. study suggests that much of those advantages have been
squandered by today's 61-year-olds.
Dr Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of the charity Weight
Concern, said that many people were stuck in a vicious circle.
Growing waistlines make exercise more difficult, making it harder to
lose weight. Some advances in healthcare could also be to blame for
the backward trend.
'We have been lulled into a false sense of security that
pharmaceuticals are the answer to our health problems,' he said.
'So we get statistics saying that the number of deaths from heart
disease is falling but that is because we are keeping people alive with drugs.
'That is admirable but it would be far better if we could cut the
amount of heart disease in the first place.'