A large cohort study from the Netherlands found the incidence of obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were much higher among adults in their twenties and thirties than formerly.
This increase in risk factors for diabetes, stroke and heart disease could offset the advantage of reduced incidence of lung cancer from the decline in smoking.
The researchers analysed data on more than 6,000 individuals in a cohort study that began in 1987, with follow-up examinations after six, 11 and 16 years, measuring body weight, blood pressure and total cholesterol level.
The subjects were divided into ten-year age groups to help determine whether there were ‘generation shifts’ in risk profile.
The results showed that while the prevalence of obesity and hypertension increased with age, the younger generations had a higher prevalence of these risk factors than those 10 years had shown at the same age. For example:
• incidence of overweight among men in their thirties had increased over 11 years from 40% to 52%
• incidence of hypertension had increased between generations in both sexes
• incidence of diabetes had increased between generations in men.
The investigators concluded that “the more recently born adult generations are doing worse than their predecessors”.
Lead study author Gerben Hulsegge commented that in terms of the prevalence of obesity, the younger generation was “15 years ahead” of the older.
He predicted: “We are likely to see a shift in non-communicable disease from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer to obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.” As a result, he warned, increases in life expectancy could level off.