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OBJECTIVES: Declines in mortality have typically been associated with improvements in physical health across generations. While life expectancy in most high-income countries continues to increase, there is evidence that younger generations, particularly in the United States (US), are less healthy than previous generations at the same age. We compared generational trends in physical health in the US, England, and continental Europe to explore whether other regions have experienced a similar pattern of worsening health across cohorts. METHODS: Using data from nationally representative studies of adults aged ≥50 years from the US (Health and Retirement Study, n=26,939), England (English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, n=14,992) and 11 continental European countries (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, n=72,595), we estimated differences in the age-adjusted prevalence of self-reported chronic disease and disability and observer-measured health indicators across pseudo-birth cohorts (born <1925, 1925-1935, 1936-1945, 1946-1954, 1955-1959). RESULTS: Age-adjusted prevalence of doctor-diagnosed chronic disease increased across cohorts in all regions. Trends in disability prevalence were more regionally varied. Still, in both the US and Europe, we observed a structural break in disability trends, with declines observed in pre-war cohorts slowing, stalling, or reversing for cohorts born since 1945. DISCUSSION: In all regions, we found evidence for worsening health across cohorts, particularly for those born since 1945. While more chronic disease in younger cohorts need not necessarily translate to worse quality of life or higher rates of functional limitation, there is some suggestion that worsening chronic disease morbidity may be spilling over into worsening disability.

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birth cohorts, chronic disease, disability, international comparison