Background: The baby-boom generation is entering retirement. Having experienced unprecedented prosperity and improved medical technology, they should be the healthiest generation ever.
Methods: We compared prevalence of disease and risk factors at ages 50-61 years in baby boomers with the preceding generation and attributed differences to period or cohort effects. Data were from the Health Survey for England (HSE) from 1994 to 2007 (n = 48,563). Logistic regression models compared health status between birth cohorts. Age-period-cohort models identified cohort and period effects separately.
Results: Compared to the wartime generation, the baby-boomer group was heavier (3.02 kg; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.42-3.63; p < 0.001) and reported more diagnoses of hypertension (odds ratio [OR] = 1.48; CI, 1.27-1.72; p < 0.001), diabetes (OR = 1.71; CI, 1.37-2.12; p < 0.001), and mental illness (OR = 1.90; CI, 1.54-2.53; p < 0.001). Baby boomers reported fewer heart attacks (OR = 0.61; CI, 0.47-0.79; p < 0.001) and had lower measured blood pressures (systolic -9.51 mmHg; CI, -8.7 to -10.31; p <0.001; diastolic, -2.5 mmHg; CI, -1.99 to -3.01; p < 0.001). Higher diagnosed mental disorder prevalence was attributable to a cohort effect (prevalence for 1935-1939 cohort, 2.5%, vs.1950-1954 cohort, 4.7%), whereas changes in diagnoses of diabetes and hypertension and measured body mass index were primarily period effects.
Conclusion: English baby boomers are moving toward retirement with improved cardiovascular health. However, the baby-boomer cohort has a higher prevalence of mental illness diagnoses and shows no improvement in self-rated health compared to the wartime birth cohort. There remains substantial scope to reduce health risks and future disability.