Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being"

The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics recently released a report entitled "Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being " (March 2008; PDF, 179 pages).

The 2008 Report was announced by a Press Release, dated
March 27, 2008, entitled "Americans Living Longer, Enjoying Greater Health and Prosperity, but Important Disparities Remain, Says Federal Report" (Word format, 5 pages).

Older Americans 2008, the fourth chartbook prepared by the Forum since 2000, provides an updated, accessible compendium of indicators, drawn from the most reliable official statistics about the well-being of Americans primarily age 65 and over.

The indicators are categorized into five broad areas — population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors and health care.

The 160-page report contains data on 38 key indicators — and a one-time special feature on health literacy. * * *

The press release was also posted by the National Institute on Aging and Eurek Alert, among others, and was the subject of an article posted by Reuters, which noted the American aging trend:
The report forecasts that by 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will nearly double to 71.5 million, or 20 percent of the U.S. population, up from 12 percent, or 37 million people, in 2006.
These are the most general conclusions of the 2008 Report:
Average life expectancy continues to increase, and today’s older Americans enjoy better health and financial security than any previous generation.

However, rates of gain are inconsistent between the genders and across age brackets, income levels and racial and ethnic groups.

Some critical disparities also exist between older Americans and older people in other industrialized countries. * * *
The 2008 Report represents a massive, comprehensive, and detailed statistical presentation about Older Americans, assembled by the membership of the Forum, which includes fifteen Federal agencies that use or produce data about older Americans.

The comments in the Press Release highlight what is in the 2008 Report and why it is important.
“This report comes at a critical time,” according to Edward Sondik, Ph.D., director, National Center for Health Statistics.

“As the baby boomers age and America’s older population grows larger and more diverse, community leaders, policymakers and researchers have an even greater need for reliable data to understand where older Americans stand today and what they may face tomorrow.”

“The ‘greatest generation’ made enormous gains in health and financial security, although the gains were not shared equally,” says Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“We’ll be tracking their children, those just reaching their 60s, to see whether those gains can be sustained or even improved.”

Suzman cautions that there could be problems, however. For example, he notes that increased rates of obesity among today’s middle-aged could threaten the health of these adults as they age.

“The sheer size of the baby boom cohorts is certain to affect our health, long-term care and pension systems," says Benjamin E. Sasse, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Department of Health and Human Services.

“As we look ahead, it is imperative that we collect and analyze quality data to help policymakers plan for the future of these programs so important to aging Americans.” * * *

Both the Press Release and the 2008 Report summarize, then support, trends noted.

  • Population – The demographics of aging in the United States continue to change dramatically, as the baby boomers accelerate growth in the percentage and numbers of older people and other important parameters change. * * *
  • Economics – More older people enjoy increased prosperity than any previous generation, with an increase in higher incomes and a decrease in the proportion of older people with low incomes and in poverty. However, major inequalities continue to exist for older blacks and for people without high school diplomas, who report smaller economic gains and fewer financial resources. * * *
  • Health Status – Americans’ longevity continues to increase, although life expectancy at age 65 in the United States is lower than that of other industrialized countries. While older people experience a variety of chronic health conditions that often accompany aging, the rate of functional limitations among people age 65 and older has declined in recent years. * * *
  • Health Risks and Behaviors – Factors affecting the health and well-being of older Americans, such as smoking history, influenza and pneumonia vaccinations and mammogram screenings, are key indicators that have shown long-term improvements but no significant change in recent years. * * *
  • Health Care – Health care costs, particularly for prescription drugs, have risen dramatically for older Americans. * * *

The 2008 Report and its component parts, including statistical tables, can be download selectively here.

The Forum's website also provides resources related to the 2008 Report:
The Press Release noted the availability of the 2008 Report in forms other than online download:
Single printed copies of Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being are available at no charge through the National Center for Health Statistics while supplies last.

Requests may be made by calling 1-866-441-6247 or by sending an e-mail to

For multiple print copies, contact Forum staff director Kristen Robinson at (301) 458-4460 or send an e-mail request to