Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Generation X’s Weighty Problem

Generation X (born in 1966–80) will overtake Baby Boomers (born in 1946–65) for poor health, including rates of obesity and diabetes, if current trends continue, according to research published in PLOS ONE by University of Adelaide researchers who compared the health status of the two groups at the same age range of 25–44 years.

They found that Generation X had significantly poorer levels of self-rated health and higher levels of obesity and diabetes compared with Boomers even though there was no real difference in physical activity between the two groups.

“Generation X appears to have developed both obesity and diabetes much sooner when compared with Baby Boomers, which is a major concern on a number of fronts,” says PhD student Rhiannon Pilkington, who co-authored the research.

Generation X is more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese and have diabetes at 25–44 years of age compared with Baby Boomers at the same age in 1989. The prevalence of obesity in men is nearly double, with 18.3% of Generation X males obese compared with 9.4% of Baby Boomers at the same age. The gap is not as profound for women, with 12.7% of Generation X females classified as obese compared with 10.7% of Baby Boomers at the same age.

“This study adds to the growing evidence worldwide suggesting that each younger generation is developing obesity and related chronic health conditions earlier in life,” Pilkington says.

“Although the two groups in our study did not seem to have any difference in levels of physical activity, our lifestyles and food environments have changed drastically over recent decades. Transport options and workplaces encourage sedentary behaviour, and food high in fat and sugar is often more readily available than a healthier alternative. This may account for why the younger generation is developing unhealthy weight levels at an earlier age,” she says.

Baby Boomers and Generation X form almost 77% of Australia’s workforce. “There is the potential for obesity-related health problems to propel many from the workforce early, or to drastically reduce their ability to work,” Pilkington says. “If ongoing generations continue down this path of developing what were once considered to be age-related conditions earlier in life, the consequences for healthcare costs will be enormous.”