Background: Despite their clear association with health, smoking and alcohol consumption among elderly people have not been extensively researched. This study examined changes in smoking and alcohol consumption and their sociodemographic patterning among the Finnish population aged 65-79 years over the period 1985-2001.
Methods: Population-based monitoring surveys conducted biennially from 1985 to 2001 were pooled into three time periods. Trends in smoking and alcohol consumption and their sociodemographic variations among 5870 men and 5923 women were calculated. Logistic regression was used as the main method of analysis.
Results: Smoking declined slightly among men, and consumption of higher levels of alcohol rose in both genders from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. Smoking among women remained at a very low level throughout the study period. Smoking and higher level of alcohol consumption were more prevalent among the younger elderly and among the men than among their counterparts. Higher alcohol use was more common among retired office workers than other former employees. Smoking was clearly more prevalent among unmarried than married people.
Conclusions: Declining numbers of male smokers and remarkably few female smokers, together with positive changes already noted in diet and functional ability, suggest healthier senior years ahead. On the other hand, the rising trend of alcohol use poses a challenge to future public health.