Baby boomers sport waistline woes

October 20, 2005, vol. 34, no. 4
By Carol Thorbes

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Today's aging baby boomers are much better behaved, when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, than their middle-aged counterparts of 25 years ago.

But, for one paradoxical reason, they are not aging any better than their forefathers, says Andrew Wister in his new book, Baby Boomer Health Dynamics: How are we Aging? Wister, an internationally respected gerontologist and chair of Simon Fraser University's gerontology department, says Canadians' Achilles heel is their weight.

Even though today's boomers are 40 per cent more active, smoke half as much and drink two-thirds less than their counterparts 25 years ago, their waists continue to expand. “Obesity, defined as persons with a body mass index of 30 or higher, has doubled in only 15 years,” observes Wister.

The gerontologist uses several population health measures, such as leisure-time physical activity, to glean information from six national Canadian health surveys (done from the late 1970s to 2001) and unravel the exercise-obesity paradox.

Wister's research indicates that society's super-sized food portions, preference for fast food on the run, over consumption of empty calories, such as pop and chips, and declining food quality undo the benefits of increased exercise.

The book concludes that today's boomers may bust society's health budget if they do not rein in their waistlines. “People aged 40 to 60 years now comprise about one third of the Canadian population,” notes Wister.

“Metaphorically, this pig in the python has the potential to influence society, especially population health and health care, in fundamental ways. The compression of morbidity will be less important in the future than the changing landscape of chronic illness, for example the rise in diabetes, asthma and certain cancers.”

As well as providing an educated glimpse into the fate of today's baby boomers and the health care system, Wister's book offers hope.

The author of numerous articles, books and chapters on aging advises, “Gerontology research shows that it is never too late to improve your lifestyle and health -even well into our 90s and 100s. So, age should not be used as an excuse for poor lifestyles.”

University of Toronto Press published Wister's book, which is available through the SFU bookstore and various Lower Mainland retailers.

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