One of the challenges for health care providers these days is helping patients to help themselves. The success or failure of the transformation currently under way in our field hinges to a large degree on empowering individuals to take more responsibility for their health and for their health care.

 

A couple of studies have come out recently that underscore the scope of that challenge, especially when it comes to the baby boomers among us. For instance, a report earlier this month in JAMA Internal Medicine indicates that boomers are in worse health than their parents were at the same age.

As reported by Reuters, researchers led by Dana E. King, M.D., from the West Virginia University School of Medicine, compared the responses of two groups of people in an ongoing national health and nutrition survey: those who were 46 to 67 years old between 1988 and 1994 and those who were in the same age range between 2007 and 2010.

Among their findings: 39 percent of boomers were obese compared with 29 percent of the previous generation and 16 percent of boomers had diabetes compared with 12 percent of the previous generation. Boomers were less likely to get regular exercise and more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and to walk with a cane or walker.

The study didn't pinpoint the reasons for any of that, but King noted that boomers tend to lead sedentary lives.

Speaking of which … research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America last fall shows that individuals who lead active lifestyles have greater brain gray matter than less active people.

As reported in MedPage Today, the study included MRIs of 876 individuals. It "found that active individuals who expended more calories a week in various activities had 5 percent greater gray matter volume than people who were more sedentary."

Surprisingly, that even held true for Alzheimer's patients. "These patients weren't cured, but they had less deterioration in [certain] brain areas than people with Alzheimer's who were less active," said Cyrus Raji, M.D., a postdoctoral researcher in radiology at the University of California Los Angeles. Raji noted that when it comes to Alzheimer's, "lack of physical exercise is the No. 1 most powerful risk factor, contributing to 21 percent of cases."

West Virginia's Dana King put it bluntly: "People should just do everything they can to be active and eat healthy. It would make such a dramatic difference."

Encouraging patients to do just that has got to be a priority for health care providers.