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Number of 100-year-olds is booming

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Not long ago, Lonny Fried's achievement would have dropped jaws. TV and newspaper reporters would have showed up at her door. She would have been fussed over and 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 around 72,000 and is projected to at least double again by 2020, perhaps even increase sevenfold, according to the Census Bureau.

Fried turns 100 on Friday. Her retirement community, Edgewater Pointe Estates in Boca Raton, 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 "Today" show weatherman known for his on-air birthday wishes to those 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. "I don't want any celebration or nothing," she said.

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 steadily with a walker and said she has been fulfilled by finding a second love, raising a family and working as a nurse.

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

Thomas Perls of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University said the rise in 100-year-olds is attributed largely to better medical care and the 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.

Leo Lautmann, who lives at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, reached 100 in December. Asked how long he'd like to live, he said in Yiddish, "One hundred and twenty," then reconsidered. "Maybe 110 would be enough." -- AP

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