ATLANTA – After a century of nearly uninterrupted medical improvements and longer lives, it looks like the baby boomers could screw things up.
A new government study shows deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke continue to drop, but it also shows that half of Americans age 55 to 64 – including the oldest of the baby boomers – have high blood pressure, and two in five are obese.
This means that this large group of aging Americans is in worse shape in some respects than those born a decade earlier were when they were the same age.
Medical improvements in coming years might offset the problems before they affect life expectancy, but there are no promises, health officials said.
“The late ’50s and early ’60s are a crucial time to focus on disease prevention,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle to enjoy a longer, healthier life.”
The report presents the latest data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics and dozens of other health agencies and organizations.
Among the findings: Deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke, the nation’s three leading killers, all dropped in 2003 between 2 percent and 5 percent.
At the same time, Americans’ life expectancy increased. According to the government’s calculations, a child born in 2003 can expect to live 77.6 years on average, up from 77.3 the year before. In 1990, life expectancy was 75.4 years.
U.S. life expectancy has been rising almost without interruption since 1900, thanks to advances in medicine and sanitation, and declines in unhealthy practices such as smoking.