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Longevity

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Probably no one understands baby boomers as well as David Foo.

Probably no one understands baby boomers as well as David Foot. The Toronto-based demographic whiz can even pinpoint the precise moment at which the more than 10 million Canadians born between 1947 and 1966 will likely begin to think seriously about their health: when the beloved family pet takes off for the big kennel in the sky.

"In your teens and 20s, you figure you're never going to die: you can eat anything and do anything," said Foot, speaking in Ottawa at a recent Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) market trends symposium. "In your 30s, you're too wrapped up with raising kids. In your mid-40s, all of a sudden the cat and dog get into some trouble, and you have to deal with a close family friend namely, the pet dying. This is the first introduction in the family to mortality you wake up and realize life isn't forever."

And with that realization comes a new readiness to hear the gospel of natural health. "All of a sudden," Foot observed, "you say, 'I'd better start to exercise; I'd better start to eat sensibly; I'd better start to look at vitamin supplements; I'd better start to think more spiritually.'"

Dominating Society

Baby boomers a generation bracketed by the end of the Second World War and the advent of the birth-control pill have swept through successive decades like a force of nature. They flooded schools and then workplaces, shook up old institutions, eroded many of the values held dear by previous generations, and left a radically altered social landscape in their wake.

"They are all the mega-trends around us," remarked Foot, whose 1996 book Boom, Bust and Echo (MacFarlane, Walter and Ross) chronicles the impact of boomers on society as they age. "Whatever they do, they're dominating society."

He pointed to the drop in the national crime rate, which coincided with the aging of the boomers, as just one example of how their sheer weight of numbers can tip the statistical scales: "When they were young and committing crime, crime looked like a big problem. Now that they're older and can't run as fast, crime has decreased."

In the 1970s, boomers wanted to be where the action was, and headed to the cities. Urbanization became the order of the day. As they began marrying and raising families, they moved to the suburbs, which swelled in size throughout the 1980s and 1990s. As Foot succinctly put it, "They moved from smoking grass to mowing it."

Cocooned in their homes, boomers fed a host of new businesses from video stores to pizza delivery companies that catered to their suburbanite lifestyles. With changing work patterns, their free time grew ever more limited and fragmented, and they became increasingly picky about how they meted it out. "The vigilante consumer appears," said Foot. "Anyone who wastes her time is in real trouble."

"Doctors Don't Get It"

That being the case, boomers were bound to have problems with the traditional health-care system. As Foot pointed out, time-strapped boomers don't take kindly to having to sit an hour in a waiting room for a scheduled appointment with a physician. "I've now worked out why they call us patients," he quipped. "Because we're expected to be patient."

At the same time, health was assuming a greater importance in many boomers' lives. "You get to your mid-50s," noted Foot, "by now your parents are in their late 70s, early 80s, beginning to run into health-care problems and you realize you're not going to live forever, and all of a sudden, you have to deal with the next half of your life. Healthy eating, health food and spirituality all come on the agenda as that massive baby boom gets into their 50s."

In recent years, boomers have turned to the Internet to help them navigate their way through a healthier life. The new tool has enabled them to better understand health care and to demand more say in decisions related to it.

To Foot, the result has been nothing less than a revolution in health. "On the Web, you can sift through huge amounts of information, and that means more customers who show up in a physician's office have more information than the physician. And the doctors don't get it."

To quell this apparent consumer revolt, some doctors have begun asking the boomer children of elderly patients not to accompany them to their appointments. These boomer children are in their early to mid-50s, said Foot. They've already diagnosed what's wrong with their parents, and they just want to make sure that the doctor's got it right. They demand quality.

"Doctors don't get how the nature of power has dramatically changed and how their position of authority is actually decreasing in our society as more and more boomers are using the Web for information, particularly health-care information, related to their aging parents."

Getting It Right

But it isn't just their parents' health that the boomers want to get right. The death of their pets and the prospect of burying their parents are setting off some profound bells and whistles, prompting many of them to make adjustments in their own lives.

"You eat more fresh fruits," said Foot. "You also find yourself eating fish more regularly. And you find yourself much more open to suggestions about vitamin supplements, exercise and lots of other good things that will make the second half of your life healthy and quality."

Other boomers may find themselves having to deal with the consequences of past indifference to their health. "The boomers are getting to the age where the body is beginning to deteriorate," said Foot, "and all those little niggling intolerances are going to show up."

In particular, he noted, type II diabetes will "be an absolutely exploding problem over the next 10 years." The surge in diabetic boomers will have repercussions in many sectors of the economy, including the hospitality and food manufacturing industries. While such industries may put boomers' increasing sugar and food intolerances down to stomach upset, the natural-health foods industry can actually help them recover good health.

Foot sees other opportunities on the horizon for boomers to take charge of their health. As they become more concerned about food additives and genetically modified foods, they are naturally turning to healthier alternatives. "If you don't trust what's in your food additives, you're going to try and go with natural foods, natural health, natural medicine as much as you can."

For more information visit David Foot's website at footwork.com.

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