Today’s adults are significantly less healthy than their counterparts in previous generations, despite their longer life expectancy, Science Daily reported. The findings are from a new study published on April 11 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study’s lead author, Gerben Hulsegge from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, said that obesity is largely to blame.
"The prevalence of obesity in our youngest generation of men and women at the mean age of 40 is similar to that of our oldest generation at the mean age of 55,” Hulsegge stated. “This means that this younger generation is '15 years ahead' of the older generation and will be exposed to their obesity for a longer time.”
Hulsegge’s study tracked the health of 6,377 men and women at intervals of six, 11 and 16 years. Study participants were divided into 10-year age groups, and separated by sex, so that researchers could track generational shifts in health.
Researchers specifically looked for changes in body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, according to Science Daily.
Results indicated that people are less metabolically healthy today – with hypertension and obesity becoming much bigger problems among the population than they were in past generations.
One notable statistic indicated that among the first generation of males in their 30s, 40 percent were overweight. But in the next generation of males in their 30s, 52 percent were overweight.
Hulsegge stated that obesity will surpass smoking as the main contributor to shrinking life expectancy numbers.
"The findings also mean that, because the prevalence of smoking in high-income countries is decreasing, we are likely to see a shift in non-communicable disease from smoking-related diseases, such as lung cancer, to obesity-related diseases such as diabetes," Hulsegge said.
"This decrease in smoking prevalence and improved quality of health care are now important driving forces behind the greater life expectancy of younger generations, and it's likely that in the near future life expectancy will continue to rise,” Hulsegge said. “But it's also possible that in the more distant future, as a result of our current trends in obesity, the rate of increase in life expectancy may well slow down, although it's difficult to speculate about that."