A new study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University has found that Baby Boomers show increasing interest in their health in their early 50′s and around age 65. The peak interest in health issues for Baby Boomers comes at about age 51, with a second peak coming near age 65, according to the study.
These ages correspond with times when health screenings are recommended, and also with times when the duties of caring for aging parents most heavily affect aging Boomers.
Baby Boomers seek their health information primarily from their doctors and on the internet, the study found.
The new study, based on a survey of 477 Americans age 45 to 65, was reported in a news release issued by Ohio State University. It was presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association in Orlando on November 15.
“This is the first study to find health-related ‘change points’ during the lifespan when people perceive health needs to be more important than at other times,” said John Dimmick, lead author of the study and Emeritus Associate Professor of Communication at Ohio State University.
“The study was conducted to better target media health campaigns to boomers as well as to assist medical professionals to better target health information to this generation,” Professor Dimmick said.
“The results may help doctors and other professionals target this generation with health messages at a time when they are most receptive to hearing them,” the researchers concluded.
The Study; Method
Professor Dimmick, along with Katey Price, a doctoral candidate in communication at Ohio State, and Melanie Sarge, a former Ohio State doctoral student who is now an assistant professor at Texas Tech University, conducted a survey of Americans age 45 to 65.
The survey included 477 respondents from across the U.S. who completed an online questionnaire. They were recruited by a commercial survey firm.
The questionnaire asked respondents to rate how important they thought each of 18 health issues were to them — on a seven-point scale, ranging from “not at all important” to “very important.” The health issues included diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and nutrition and weight management, among others.
The survey questionnaire also asked participants how they would rate their overall health, where they got their health information, and how often they used different media.
The researchers analyzed how respondents of different ages ranked the importance of the 18 health issues, and examined whether there were certain “change points” in age when the participating Baby Boomers showed greater interest in or gave higher priority to their health.
The researchers found that the participants in their late 40s had the lowest levels of interest in health issues. Interest in health increased quickly in the early 50s and peaked at age 51. It then dropped slightly, and another strong rise in interest occurred near age 65.
The researchers found that the ages (“change points”) when interest in health information peaked were not affected by gender, by how respondents rated their own health, or by media use.
“These change points seem to be affecting nearly everyone in our sample,” Professor Dimmick said.
The researchers also found that the participants’ use of health media, including the internet, also peaked at age 51 and then again at 64.
As to their preferred sources for health information: the respondents reported that their number one source was health professionals, and their next most preferred source was the media — particularly the internet.
“The internet is the key to delivering health information to baby boomers,” Professor Dimmick said. “In order to effectively reach baby boomers, we need to have websites designed to furnish information on the health issues rated most important by boomers.”
Of the 18 health issues included in the study, the seven that the Baby Boomer respondents rated relatively high in importance were: eyes, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, nutrition/weight management, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
The other 11 health issues included on the questionnaire were rated relatively less important by the Boomers in the study. These included: Parkinson’s disease, blood poisoning, flu, dementia/Alzheimer’s, respiratory disease, hearing problems, mental health, brain disease, pneumonia, kidney disease, and liver disease.
“The early 50s are clearly a key change point for the baby boomers we studied,” study co-author Katey Price said. “This would be a great time to reach boomers with messages about how to improve and protect their health.”
According to the Ohio State University release about the study, the researchers suspect that interest in health peaks in the early 50s because of what doctors and the media tell people reaching that age.
“Fifty is the age Americans are told they need to undergo a variety of health screenings,” Professor Dimmick said. “For example, people are often told that they should get a colonoscopy, mammogram and — until recently — a PSA test for prostate cancer when they turn 50.” “People start really paying attention to their health when they are encouraged to get all of these various screening tests,” he said.
These common recommendations of health screenings appear to pique interest in health, even though some health experts have begun to question the value of excessive screenings, and to warn of radiation risks from certain scans.
The other peak interest in health near age 65 probably comes as Baby Boomers are contemplating retirement, the researchers concluded.
“Age 65 is when people traditionally are thought of as senior citizens,” Ms. Price said. “Old age is synonymous with declining health in our culture, so people again start thinking they should be worried about their health.”
Professor Dimmick and Ms. Price both indicated that they couldn’t find any medical reason for people’s interest in health to peak at about age 50 and again at age 65.
“We do a lot of health screenings at age 50 and prepare for retirement at age 65 and that seems to drive a lot of the interest in health issues at those ages,” Professor Dimmick said.
The researchers also emphasized the importance of heeding the seven specific areas of health interest expressed by the Baby Boomers in the study (eyes, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, nutrition/weight management, arthritis, and high blood pressure), as referenced above.
“These are the issues health professionals [trying to reach Baby Boomers] should concentrate on, because they are what baby boomers are most interested in themselves,” Professor Dimmick said.
“If you’re going to change people’s behavior, first you have to concentrate on what people think is most important,” Professor Dimmick said. “Then you can worry about the other issues.”
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