Middle-aged face more years of ill health than baby boomers, study suggests

People in their forties and fifties face more years of ill health than baby boomers, a study suggests.

The research, led by UCL and published in the journal Population Studies, found that while the middle-aged may expect to live longer, they are likely to suffer more years of ill health than older generations now in their sixties and early seventies.

Researchers compared generations born between 1945 and 1980 and found a greater prevalence of ill health among those born later.

These younger cohorts were more likely to rate their health as poor and have clinically measured poor health at equivalent ages during their working lives, they said.

The researchers said that although life expectancy has increased in recent decades, many of the years gained are likely to be spent in poor health, with conditions such as diabetes and obesity affecting people earlier.

Lead author Dr Stephen Jivraj, of UCL’s department of epidemiology and public health, said: “Our study shows that, for those born between 1945 and 1980, the overall trend is towards an increasing proportion of years in poor health, with some health conditions beginning at an earlier age.

“This has worrying implications for healthcare services, which already face increased demand because of an ageing population.”

The researchers analysed data from 135,189 people aged between 25 and 64 who took part in the annual Health Survey of England between 1991 and 2014.

Participants were asked whether they had poor health, a long-term illness and a range of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while nurses measured hypertension, body mass index and blood glucose levels.

Researchers compared the results for different age groups and used the data to calculate changes in healthy life expectancy over the generations as well as years likely to be spent in poor health.

They calculated that half of the gains in life expectancy between 1993 and 2003 were likely to be spent in poor health, falling to a fifth of the gains between 2003 and 2013, UCL said.

Later-born cohorts were more likely to have diabetes, to be overweight and to report having cardiovascular disease and poor health in general while later-born men were more likely to report high blood pressure, it added.

Senior author Professor George Ploubidis, at UCL’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, said: “Earlier in the 20th century, a rise in life expectancy went hand in hand with an increase in healthy lifespan – younger generations were living longer, healthier lives.

“It appears that, for those generations born between 1945 and 1980, this trend has stalled.

“Those born later are expected to live longer on average, but with more years of ill health.”