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The number of 100-year-olds is booming in U.S.

BOCA RATON — Not too long ago, Lonny Fried's achievement would have made jaws drop. TV and newspaper reporters would have shown up at her door. She would have been fussed over and would have been given a big party.

But turning 100 isn't such a big deal anymore.

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

Fried will turn 100 on Friday. Her retirement community, Edgewater Pointe Estates, observed her birthday two weeks ahead of time with other residents born in April.

"In the '80s, we'd make a big deal about it by calling Willard Scott on TV to make that huge announcement," Diana Ferguson, who has worked at Edgewater for 25 years, said of the former Today show weatherman known for his on-air birthday wishes to viewers who hit the century mark. "But today we have so many residents turning 100-plus that it's not as big a deal."

Fried doesn't mind at all. Simply making it to 100, she said, is enough.

Born in Germany, she lost her first husband in the Holocaust and was herself held at the Westerbork concentration camp before coming to the United States. She takes no medication, moves around steadily with a walker and said she has been fulfilled by a life in which she found a second love, raised a family and worked as a nurse.

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.

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.

The number of 100-year-olds is booming in U.S. 04/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 12:00am]
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