Within the next five years, Americans age of 65 and older will outnumber those under the age of 5 for the first time. By 2030, nearly 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65, and these older Americans will be a more diverse group—both racially and economically—than ever before. Who will stay sharp and engaged as a 90-year-old? Who will suffer from depression? Who will develop Alzheimer’s? Who stands the best chance of benefitting from an experimental new therapy? These are just a few of the questions confronted by individuals, researchers, and entire societies as we confront demographic shift of historic proportions.
Rebecca Betensky, PhD
Professor of Biostatistics, HSPH
Lisa Berkman, PhD
Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology, HSPH and Director, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
Declining death rates from cancer among Americans since the early 1990s clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of investment in cancer research and prevention programs. However, cancer remains a leading killer in the U.S. and around the world, particularly in developing countries whose burden of cancer is expected to more than triple in the next few decades. At the same time, the number of cancer survivors has grown considerably, and in the U.S. alone there are 13 million cancer survivors today. For these individuals and their families, there is an urgent need for evidence-based advice on what lifestyle factors they can engage in to improve cancer-specific survival, quality of life, and overall health. Many questions remain: What interventions work to improve cancer survival and quality of life? Where should our research efforts focus?
In the United States, two in three adults are overweight or obese and fewer than half get enough exercise. Among young people, one in three is overweight or obese. Obesity and lack of physical activity are critical problems facing not just the wealthiest nations, but increasingly low- and middle-income countries as well. What are the implications of this massive epidemic? In economic terms, obesity in America now accounts for as much as 21% of all medical spending—$190 billion in 2005—according to one widely-cited report. And in human terms the cost—measured in increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and many cancers—is incalculable.
Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, MD, PhD
J.S. Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism and Chair, Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases, HSPH
Eric Rimm, SD ’91
Associate Professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, HSPH