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Agetech World podcast: Generation gap politics



US society is currently facing a difficult trade-off between youth and experience as the baby boomer generation continues to hold disproportionate political and social sway, according to gerontocracy expert Kevin Munger.

The assistant professor of political science and social data analytics at Penn State University in the United States is featured in the latest Agetech World podcast talking about his new book, Generation Gap: Why the Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture.

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Mr Munger, whose most recent work has been delving into the world of social media and American politics, said he had been prompted to write the book in the wake of the 2016 US election and concerns about misinformation.

“When looking at this, something just really jumped out at me, which was the really dramatic difference in how much people were exposed to and shared fake news by age, where older people were much more likely to share misinformation, and this really got me down this path of thinking about the role of age and generation in a society which is very specifically right now in the middle of an information technology revolution.”

Kevin Munger

Mr Munger says American Baby Boomers – born in the post-Second World period between 1946 and 1964 – have been uniquely placed to take advantage of the new and expanding opportunities of the past 77 years, including medical advances and incredible economic growth, which now sees them possessing half of the US’s wealth in terms of pensions, equities, and property assets, accounting for more than that amassed by Generation Xers and Millennials combined.

Baby Boomers also entered politics en-masse in their 30s and 40s, making them the largest contingent in the current Congress, holding nearly one-third of the seats in the House and two-thirds of those in the Senate.

The outcome is that the US currently boasts the oldest Senate and second-oldest House – after the previous one – in its history and the second-oldest legislature in the world behind Cambodia.

Where once people were happy to retire and take a backseat, Mr Munger told Agetech World that American-born Baby Boomers now hold excessive sway both as voters and benefactors, especially in primary elections.

And their influence has not yet reached its zenith, Mr Munger suggests, with the peak concentration of what he terms ‘Boomer ballast’ set for some time in the late 2020s.

With the Baby Boomer generation controlling the political and cultural landscape, Mr Munger argues that “each new generation is less likely to turn out to vote, and I think part of the explanation of this is alienation. They don’t really feel connected to politicians, they don’t feel like anyone really represents them.

“The ability to choose between an 80-year-old and a 78-year-old (referring to current US President Joe Biden and the former incumbent, Donald Trump) is not exactly motivating to 18-year-olds who live in a very different world.”

This political malaise, he articulates, is an almost uniquely American experience.

Referring to the political and cultural landscape in Europe, Mr Munger said: “There are demographically Baby Boomers in the UK and in Germany and large other parts of Europe, but that hasn’t had the same impact on the age of politicians because of the different electoral institutions.

“So, the US with our two-party system, with our single-member district first past the post election, really gives a lot of power to incumbents and less power to parties, whereas in parliamentary systems which are proportional representation, the party has a lot more control, and so they are able to select politicians and thus prevent this kind of domination by the same older generation.

“The UK is an interesting point, however. It is kind of the middle point between the US and the rest of the European institutions. The UK actually has the third oldest legislature in the world, so they are just behind the US.

“I think that is a good point in favour of this case, because the UK is kind of a hybrid between the US institutional model and the rest of Europe.”

With the countdown to the 2024 US elections already in full swing and the country looking at potentially having to choose between current President Joe Biden and rematch challenger Donald Trump, Mr Munger’s book couldn’t be timelier.

Historically, older generations have been revered for their wisdom – with good reason, Mr Munger maintains.

Older people bring decades of knowledge and real-world experience to the table that can be passed on to the younger generation.

But with technological advances moving on apace and the older generation either failing or unwilling to keep up with these changes, Mr Munger contends this accumulated wisdom may now be out of date.

In terms of Baby Boomers’ legacy and whether history is likely to treat them kindly, Mr Munger said: “In so far as Boomers are concerned about their legacy, the thing to do is to listen to the concerns of younger generations and take them seriously.”

He added that there are difficult trade-offs between youth and experience, and that it’s important for society to be able to discuss the issue openly and fairly.

  • Generation Gap: Why the Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture is published by Columbia University Press and is available to buy as either a hardcover or paperback from Amazon and all good bookshops. It is also available as an audiobook and Kindle edition.


Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors



New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing



A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million



Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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