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Centenarians BOOMING in US

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America’s population of centenarians – already the largest in the world – has roughly doubled in the past 20 years to around 72,000 and is projected to at least double again by 2020, perhaps even increase seven-fold, according to the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau estimates there were 71,991 centenarians as of Dec. 1, up from 37,306 two decades earlier. While predicting longevity and population growth is difficult, the census’ low-end estimate for 2050 is 265,000 centenarians; its highest projection puts the number at 4.2 million.

“They have been the fastest-growing segment of our population in terms of age,” said Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University.

The rising number of centenarians is not just a byproduct of the nation’s growing population – they make up a bigger chunk of it. In 1990, about 15 in every 100,000 Americans had reached 100; in 2010, it was more than 23 per 100,000, according to census figures.

Perls said the rise in 100-year-olds is attributed largely to better medical care and the dramatic drop in childhood-mortality rates since the early 1900s. Centenarians also have good genes on their side, he said, and have made common-sense health decisions, such as not smoking and keeping their weight down.

“It’s very clearly a combination of genes and environment,” Perls said.

The Social Security Administration says just under 1 percent of people born in 1910 survived to their 100th birthday. Some have speculated that as many as half of girls born today could live to 100.

Those who work with people 100 and above say the oldest Americans are living much healthier lives. A good number still live independently and remain active, their minds still sharp and their bodies basically sound. They have generally managed to confine serious sickness and disability to the final years of their lives.


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