The study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, concluded that obesity rates grew substantially for the baby-boomer generation (born 1946-1965) when compared to the "silent generation" (born 1926-1945). Obesity also increased for the baby-boomers at a younger age than the silent generation.
"We found that the obesity epidemic has affected both the baby-boomers and their predecessors but that the baby-boomers got a much earlier start, and have spent more of their lives in an obese state even though we've known that they have had better access to nutrition and information about exercise for much of their lives," says Suzanne Leveille, PhD, senior author of the study.
Arthritis risk soared along with the obesity rates of the baby-boomers, and arthritis cases attributed to obesity rose from 3 percent to 18 percent between 1971 and 2002. Many factors can be attributed to this rise, including the way physicians diagnose arthritis over time, but researchers say the rise in obesity cannot be ignored.
"Baby-boomers are just approaching the age when arthritis rates begin to rise dramatically. Many baby-boomers have lived with obesity for much of their lives. We can expect to see the health and functional consequences of this epidemic in the coming decades," says Leveille.
"Public health strategies to address obesity and arthritis management could have a major impact on the lives of aging baby-boomers in the years to come."
The researchers used data collected by the US Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics. The researchers explored the 1980 to 2000 decennial censuses and the results from the 1971 to 2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES).
In addition to Leveille, study co-authors included BIDMC investigators Christina Wee, MD, MPH, and Lisa Iezzoni, MD, MSc. The authors are all with the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at BIDMC and the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
This study was supported by grants from the Arthritis Foundation, the National Bureau of Economics Research, the National Institute on Aging and the Lasker Foundation.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a major patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.harvard.edu.