Obesity A Culprit In Boomers Higher Disability Rates

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A RAND Corp. researcher has bad news for producers and insurers that were hoping to make a killing on selling disability insurance to baby boomers.

Boomers may live longer than members of earlier generations did at comparable ages, but a team led by Darius Lakdawalla, a RAND economist, says working-age adults actually suffered a higher rate of disability in 1996 than they did in 1984.

The increase was most dramatic for the age groups dominated by the boomers.

In 1996, most boomers fit in the studys 30-39 and 40-49 age categories.

The incidence of disability was 50% higher for adults in the 30-49 age range in 1996 than it was in 1984, according to Lakdawallas 3-person team.

About 1 in 50 adults in the 30-49 age range was disabled in 1996, the team reports.

RAND, a Santa Monica, Calif., think tank, may be best known for the defense-related work it did during the Cold War, but these days it analyzes issues that have to do with butter as well as with guns.

Lakdawallas team conducted its disability study by examining results from the National Health Interview Survey, a government survey that collects information from about 36,000 households each year.

The survey identifies people with disabilities by asking participants whether they need help with personal care or other routine needs.

Lakdawallas team says some of the increase in the disability rate for adults in what should be the prime of their lives might be due to factors such as obesity, disability insurance incentives and new medical advances that save peoples lives but leave them with severe disabilities.

But Lakdawalla says the rapid increase in national girth seems to be the obvious culprit.

“Obesity is the only trend that is commensurate in size with what we found happening with disability,” Lakdawalla says. “Its the only suspect. We found that there is something going on with peoples health and that the increase is not just a case of people dropping out of the work force and going on the public dole.”

Lakdawallas team notes that obesity is linked to chronic back pain as well as to diabetes.

Diabetes still accounts for a relatively small percentage of disability claims, but chronic back pain and other musculoskeletal problems are some of the leading causes of disability.

The incidence of disability caused by both musculoskeletal problems and diabetes increased rapidly between 1984 and 1996, Lakdawallas team reports.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, February 20, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.