Dame Sally Davies told CSW that 2015 was the only time she can recall having a “properly relaxing Christmas”. That’s likely because each December the chief medical officer publishes a series of painstakingly researched reports on the state of the public’s health, each with its own focus. One of these reports – Baby Boomers: Fit for the Future – made headlines for some of its surprising, if cautionary, findings.
The report focuses on the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, so-called for those who were born during the birth rate surge that occurred roughly between 1946 and 1964. As Davies notes in her summary, the Baby Boom phenomenon, coupled with improving life expectancy, is creating a population structure that has “consequences for our economy and health and social services,” especially as younger generations bear a bigger tax burden.
But the report’s most striking findings centre on the Baby Boomers themselves. For example, it is revealed that half of Britain’s 55-64 year olds have a social media profile, the most common being a Facebook page – a noteworthy statistic for a cohort that grew up without computers. An equally intriguing yet more worrying discovery is that over 65% of Baby Boomers have not exercised for over half an hour within a month of answering the CMO’s survey.
All in a day’s work
On December 8, a Daily Mail headline read “Carry on working into your 60s if you want to stay healthy” – a response to the encouraging finding by the CMO report that productivity through old age can have considerable financial, personal, and health benefits. The report draws a connection between productivity and strong social networks, citing a study that found the latter to be an essential element of a “good later life.”
According to Davies, putting off retirement “can make sure people stay physically and mentally active for longer,” and the benefits that would accrue from this “should not be underestimated.” But Davies is keen to point out that it’s “good” work that is beneficial to people’s health and wellbeing, as opposed to work under hazardous conditions, or work that doesn’t promote self-esteem. She adds that people over the age of 55 still report the highest rates of work-related illness.
Spoiled for choice
Encouragingly, the report finds that some of the most important factors affecting Baby Boomers’ health are lifestyle choices, which are ultimately in their control. These include things like diet, smoking, drinking, and regular exercise.
But the good news ends there. According to the report, one in three 50 to 70-year olds are obese, just under a fifth of them smoke, and one in four men (one in six women) drink daily or almost daily. As mentioned, 65% have not exercised for over half an hour within a month of answering the CMO’s survey, and only 28% regularly do at least one 30-minute moderate workout a week. This is particularly striking in light of the CMO’s own guidelines, which recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise each week.
The past informs the future
For Generation X, the 35-55 year olds who follow in the Baby Boomers’ footsteps, such reports make for depressing reading. More so for the Millennial generation, who will bear the heaviest tax burden over the course of their working lives as the NHS struggles to cope with ever-increasing demand on its services. If there is a silver lining here, it’s that Generation X and the Millennials cannot only learn from the mistakes of the Baby Boomer generation, but also acquire more information on health and lifestyle choices available to them in the digital age.
Whether it is the need to ensure we have our five a day, to cut down on drinking or smoking, or to build a modest amount of exercise into our schedules, we are all aware of the need to make better lifestyle choices. But some need a nudge in this direction a little more than others, and at CS Healthcare we have been hosting and delivering on-site health checks to many public sector employees whose health we insure. The findings of these relatively simple checks often act as a ‘health MOT’ and can motivate those into making changes to their lifestyle to better improve their health.
It is encouraging that more people are willing to make these changes and take on more responsibility for their health and wellbeing, especially as this will place less of a burden on an NHS struggling to cope. Improving life expectancy combined with advances in medical science means the NHS will remain financially challenged, and that in turn means more people will have to take on greater responsibility for their health.
While the NHS continues to provide a world-renowned service, resources are increasingly earmarked for more urgent procedures, such as cardiac or cancer treatment. Recognising this scenario, and in anticipation of the future needs of Generation X and the Millennials – generations committed to healthier lifestyles – we started to explore ways in which we could deliver cover to complement the modern-day NHS.
With annual premiums typically a third of the comprehensive plans many Baby Boomers have committed to, the resulting HealthBridge plan does not seek to compete with the NHS where it is best – on cardiac and cancer treatment. The plan, which is a lower cost health insurance solution that brings new thinking to the protection market, has been designed to bridge the gap between private care and the NHS, providing members with quick access to important diagnostic tests, treatment, and surgery at a local hospital of their choice, whilst avoiding growing NHS waiting times
While the CMO’s data on the Baby Boomer generation is mostly dispiriting, it nonetheless provides valuable lessons for those entering the middle years of their life. It’s never too late to take steps to improve one’s health, but if we fall ill and cannot wait to be seen by a doctor under the NHS, a policy like HealthBridge can provide the peace of mind we are looking for.