The concept of survival of the fittest has always had a special meaning for me. It certainly makes sense that nature encourages and supports natural progressions that make a species more likely to survive. Another science principle – that every generation, thanks to medical and technologicaL advances, should be healthier and live longer than the prior generation. Despite the expectation of superior health and longer life expectancy, adults of today are actually “less metabolically healthy,” compared to their adult counterparts of a generation ago.
A large cohort study from the Netherlands compared metabolic risk factors for heart disease among the generations and found that more recent generations are doing worse….and metabolic risk factors have increased. The researchers looked at 6,000 individuals starting in the years 1987-1991, and then did follow up evaluations after six, eleven and sixteen years. Principal risk factors that were tracked and evaluated included: body weight, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and HDL level. Participants were also grouped into ages (20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50-59) for the purposes of comparison to similar age groups in the prior generation.
The study showed that just within the age groups themselves in the participant groups, risk of being overweight, obese, or having high blood pressure all increased with age. But more importantly, those born more recently already had a prevalence of these issues at younger ages. For example, 40% of men in the 30-39 year old group were considered overweight. Eleven years later, looking at the men who had now become 30-39, 52% were classified as overweight (that's a 12% increase in 11 years). In women participants born in the most recent generations, obesity doubled in just 10 years. Similar observations were made with regards to hypertension shifts in both genders. The unfavorable shifts in diabetes were more notable in men. Positive shifts in HDL (good cholesterol levels) were only noted in the older generations, which may indicate that as adults get older they are more likely to recognize the value and need for habit changes that support better health, especially if health risk factors have been present for awhile.
The overall takeaway message is that weight issues are popping up earlier and therefore, excess weight in particular has a lot more time to wreck health, literally. People at age 40 now, are comparable health wise to someone age 55 in the last generation. That’s also why this generation will be the first generation that not only won’t outlive their parents, but will die at an earlier age than their parents. Hopefully, the decreasing prevalence of smoking and the effort to modify nutrition standards and encourage a more active lifestyle, will help to slow the rates of obesity and allow life expectancy to re-adjust.
(Sources: Science Daily )
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.
Published On: April 15, 2013