Suppose Boomers don’t live as long as everybody expects them to? What if the steady march of the twentieth century toward ever-increasing lifespans levels off, or even moves into reverse?
That’s the arresting question being raised by a number of researchers of late. If the evidence is not quite compelling at this point, it’s certainly thought-provoking. For one, Jay Olshansky, a University of Illinois at Chicago public health researcher, cites a “suite of problems” – including frailty, cognitive decline, and upsurges in cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and suicide – that make the health of Boomers worse than that of the previous generation. “It does not bode well for the baby boom generation at all,” says Professor Olshansky. Drugs and other interventions can only do so much to slow the slide. It follows that lifespans may actually shorten in the foreseeable future.
Reduced longevity would be a very big deal indeed, affecting everything from the Social Security trust fund and Medicare outlays, to retirement planning, to the gross market demand for virtually all goods and services sustaining the consumer economy.
If the case for declining longevity has special purchase anywhere, it’s Mississippi. Already suffering below-average life expectancy, the state retains its six-year title as “most obese,” according to newly released rankings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity seems to correlate positively with every health negative there is – rendering the almost 35% of obese adult Mississippians good candidates to lead the way in the Boomer downturn. Once more, surely not the place in the national spotlight we want to hold.