Old before their time: Britons now ageing quicker than their parents

Poor diet and lack of exercise blamed for increase in obesity, blood pressure and diabetes

We are living longer yet growing less healthy. That is the paradoxical conclusion reached by researchers who have found successive generations building up medical problems worse than those faced by their forbears.

Life expectancy has grown dramatically in recent decades as a result of improved nutrition, housing and medical care. But today's 40-year-olds are experiencing problems of excess weight, high blood pressure and diabetes similar to those now in their mid-fifties.

The younger generation is thus 15 years ahead of the older generation on the pathway to increasing frailty, disability and ill health. Ultimately, the effect is likely to be a slowing of the increase in life expectancy or even a reversal, experts say.

For more than a decade doctors have warned that our existing way of life is killing us softly, due to an excess of fat, sugar and salt – and sloth. Two-thirds of the population are overweight or obese and, on present trends, that will rise to 90 per cent by 2050.

Obesity already causes an estimated 9,000 premature deaths a year, and doctors fear its relentless rise could mean the current generation will be the first to die before their parents.

Researchers who followed 6,000 individuals for up to 16 years have charted the consequences of that indolent, calorie-rich lifestyle and found the adults of today are less "metabolically" healthy than in the past.

"The more recently born generations are doing worse than their predecessors," they say, adding: "The prevalence of metabolic risk factors and the lifelong exposure to them have increased and probably will continue to increase."

The study was conducted in the town of Doetinchem in the Netherlands beginning in 1987. The researchers compared the health of those in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties and then followed up each group to find out how one generation compared with another born a decade earlier.

At the start of the study, 40 per cent of men in their thirties were overweight. But 11 years later, the proportion had grown to 52 per cent among the next generation of men in their thirties. Among women, their weight did not change until the most recent generations when the proportion who were obese doubled in a decade. These "generation shifts" were also seen in high blood pressure, with the prevalence of the condition increasing in each generation for both men and women. The only exceptions were the two most recent generations of men. A similar increase was seen in diabetes in succeeding generations of men, though not of women.

There was no generation shift in high cholesterol, but levels of "good" HDL cholesterol did rise in the oldest two generations. Gerben Hulsegge, of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health, who led the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, said the impact of obesity in youth was a critical factor.

"The prevalence of obesity in our youngest generation of men and women at the age of 40 is similar to that of our oldest generation at the age of 55. This means that the younger generation is 15 years ahead of the older generation and will be exposed to their obesity for a longer time."

As smoking has declined in recent decades, there is also likely to be a shift from smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer to obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.

Dr Hulsegge said: "The decrease in smoking and improved healthcare are important driving forces behind greater life expectancy of younger generations. But it is also possible in the distant future, as a result of current trends in obesity, that the rate of increase in life expectancy may well slow down."

Lifestyle illnesses: The three big killers

Diabetes

Since 1996 the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled from 1.4 million to 2.9 million. By 2025 it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes. The illness increases the risk of heart failure, kidney failure, and death – and is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK.

In the study, the prevalence of diabetes increased in each succeeding generation of men though not of women.

Blood pressure

It is one of the most important causes of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease and controlling it is one of the most effective ways of preventing premature death. High blood pressure affects an estimated 12 million people in the UK, one in four of the adult population and one in two of those over 60. In the study, the prevalence of high blood pressure increased in each generation of men and women, except for the two most recent generations of men.

Weight

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and a range of other conditions. Two-thirds of people in the UK are overweight or obese and obesity is estimated to cause 9,000 premature deaths a year.

At the start of the study, 40 per cent of men in their thirties were overweight. A decade later, the proportion of men overweight in the next generation of men in their thirties had risen to 52 per cent.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year