Older Americans Hit by Obesity, Housing Costs

beach, romantic couple, older adults
(Image credit: Hanna Monika Cybulko | Dreamstime)

More and more Americans are enjoying longer lives, but they are also getting fatter and paying more for housing in old age, according to a new report from U.S. health officials.

Two years ago, there were about 40 million people over 65 in the United States, accounting for 13 percent of the total population. Over the next two decades, that number is expected to grow to 72 million, meaning nearly 1 in 5 Americans will be seniors by 2030. But better life expectancy might not translate to better quality of life, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report warns.

Obesity is a major cause of preventable diseases and has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including depression, in older people, and statistics show seniors' waistlines are getting wider. From 1988 to 1994, 22 percent of Americans age 65 and over were obese, with that figure ballooning to 38 percent by 2010, NIH officials said.

At the same time, Americans over 65 are burdened with rising housing costs. In 1985, about 30 percent of seniors spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities. By 2009, 40 percent were spending almost a third of their income or more on housing, the NIH report said.

But on a positive note, the report found that many older Americans might be better off financially than they were four decades ago. Between 1974 and 2010, the percentage of older people living below the poverty line shrunk from 15 percent to 9 percent; the proportion of low-income seniors dropped from 35 percent to 26 percent; and the percentage of seniors with high income rose from 18 percent to 31 percent, according to the NIH.

The NIH report also found that older women have joined the workforce in increasing numbers since the 1960s. In 1963, 29 percent of women ages 62-64 worked outside the home — a figure that increased to 45 percent by 2011. Those percentages also rose for women ages 65-69 (17 percent in 1963 to 27 percent in 2011), and 70 and older (6 percent to 8 percent).

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.