The Graying of America and Why It Matters

senior grocery shoppers NL 105 iStock_7832279Have you ever been in the midst of an experience where you could feel your eyes opening to see a wider vision?

I just got back from Chicago, where I was speaking at the American Society on Aging’s annual conference, Aging in America. While there, with thousands of professionals working in diverse fields, I saw a bigger picture of how the growing number of older adults will impact us all.

Each day, more than 10,000 American baby boomers are turning 65. By the year 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. The conference gave me new vision on how wide the impact of this will be. Demand will grow for appropriate housing to suit varied needs of older adults, recreational programs as more retired people have time to pursue both new and long-time hobbies, and both preventive and therapeutic health care.

Interest in ways to enhance and maintain memory/brain function and physical balance, bone and muscle strength was apparent throughout the conference. Attendees were also looking at how this shift in population will affect boomers’ children, as they consider how to ensure good care for their parents.

So why was I there? It’s not often mentioned, especially among today’s boomers — many of whom are determined not to age like their parents did – but the #1 risk factor for cancer is age. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 4 in 5 cases of invasive cancer occur after age 55. Because of the shift in our population, by the year 2030, compared to 2008, cancer incidence in the U.S. is expected to increase 55 percent. And that prediction does not reflect the increase many expect based on the prevalence of obesity, a significant cancer risk.

My message was not gloom and doom, however. I shared the good news of AICR’s evidence-based recommendations on how smart choices in what we eat and how much we move can act throughout the process of cancer development to reduce our risk.

I talked about the importance of helping people separate unfounded ideas about reducing cancer risk they hear about as anecdotal hearsay from recommendations created based on a rigorous analysis of overall research. And I provided information showing how barriers to healthy eating need not be as daunting as they may seem.

Yes, life course research is looking at how from our very earliest days, diet and other lifestyle choices may influence our vulnerability to cancer later in life. But scientists are now learning that, throughout life, good nutrition may reduce cancer development by “turning on” protective tumor suppressor genes. Research has shown the potential for weight control, physical activity and healthy eating to change hormones and growth factors that influence cancer development.

Fortunately, there is no single approach to healthy eating that’s necessary in order to reduce cancer risk. AICR’s New American Plate boosts cancer-protective foods and helps to reach and maintain a healthy weight. It’s a flexible approach to healthy eating that works for people of different ages, lifestyles and food preferences. And AICR’s “Make Time + Break Time” approach to keeping active encourages people to see the many different ways we can boost physical activity.

Whether or not you’re part of the baby boomer generation, it’s clear that our country’s well-being depends on helping people of all ages find the evidence-based steps they can take to reduce their cancer risk.

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, is AICR’s Nutrition Advisor. Karen is a speaker, writer and consultant who specializes in helping people make sense of nutrition news. You can follow her blog, Smart Bytes®, through her website and follower her on Twitter as @KarenCollinsRD.


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