Objectives: We examined trends in obesity and arthritis prevalence among the "baby boom" (born 1946-1965) and "silent" (born 1926-1945) generations.
Methods: We conducted birth cohort analyses using successive waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1971-2002).
Results: Obesity rates increased markedly, beginning earlier in life with each successive birth cohort. When the members of the silent generation were aged 35-44 years, 14%-18% were obese. At comparable ages, 28%-32% of the youngest baby boomers were obese. Differences in arthritis prevalence were not evident across birth cohorts. However, the relative risk of arthritis because of obesity increased over time; consequently, the percentage of arthritis cases attributable to obesity increased from 3% to 18% between 1971 and 2002.
Conclusions: Our results showed that members of the baby boom generation were more obese, and became so at younger ages than their predecessors. Although differences in arthritis prevalence are not yet evident, findings suggest that obesity has contributed to more cases of arthritis in recent years than in previous decades.