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Birth Cohort Effects on Abdominal Obesity in the United States: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X


Robinson, Whitney R.; Utz, Rebecca L.; Keyes, Katherine M.; Martin, Chantel L.; & Yang, Yang Claire (2013). Birth Cohort Effects on Abdominal Obesity in the United States: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X. International Journal of Obesity, 37(8), 1129-1134. PMCID: PMC3604045


BACKGROUND: Abdominal obesity predicts a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Over the past several decades, prevalence of abdominal obesity has increased markedly in industrialized countries like the United States No previous analyses, however, have evaluated whether there are birth cohort effects for abdominal obesity. Estimating cohort effects is necessary to forecast future health trends and understand the past population-level trends.
METHODS: This analysis evaluated whether there were birth cohort effects for abdominal obesity for the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), children of the Great Depression; Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964); or Generation X (born 1965-1980). Cohort effects for prevalence of abdominal obesity were estimated using the median polish method with data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1988 and 2008. Respondents were aged 20-74 years.
RESULTS: After taking into account age effects and ubiquitous secular changes, the Silent Generation and Generation X had higher cohort-specific prevalence of abdominal obesity than the Baby Boomers. Effects were more pronounced in women than men.
CONCLUSIONS: This work presents a novel finding: evidence that the birth cohorts of the post-World War II Baby Boom appeared to have uniquely low cohort effects on abdominal obesity. The growing prosperity of the post-World War II US may have exposed the baby-boom generation to lower levels of psychosocial and socioeconomic stress than the previous or subsequent generations. By identifying factors associated with the Baby Boomers' low cohort-specific sensitivity to the obesogenic environment, the obesity prevention community can identify early-life factors that can protect future generations from excess weight gain


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

International Journal of Obesity


Robinson, Whitney R.
Utz, Rebecca L.
Keyes, Katherine M.
Martin, Chantel L.
Yang, Yang Claire