High Debt Can Raise Your Blood Pressure, Heart Risk

Monday, 19 Aug 2013 01:23 PM

By Nick Tate

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Drowning in debt? You'd better check your blood pressure.
New research shows young people with significant financial debts have higher diastolic blood pressure and poorer general physical and mental health.
The study, published by Northwestern University researchers in the journal Social Science and Medicine, offers a glimpse into the impact the economic downturn has had on the health of young Americans.

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"We now live in a debt-fueled economy," said lead researcher Elizabeth Sweet, an assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Since the 1980s American household debt has tripled. It's important to understand the health consequences associated with debt."
For the study, researchers examined the medical charts of 8,400 young adults, ages 24 to 32 years old, contained in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Among the key findings of the study:
  • Twenty percent of participants reported that they would still be in debt if they liquidated all of their assets (high debt-to-asset-ratio).
  • Those with higher debt were found to have a 1.3 percent increase in diastolic blood pressure, compared to those with lower debt. (A two-point increase in diastolic blood pressure is associated with a 17 percent higher risk of hypertension and a 15 percent higher risk of stroke.)
  • Those with higher debt reported greater levels of stress (representing an 11.7 percent increase) and higher depressive symptoms (a 13.2 percent increase).
Perceived stress, depressive symptoms, and general health were measured through a series of questions. Blood pressures were measured on each participant by a field interviewer.
"You wouldn't necessarily expect to see associations between debt and physical health in people who are so young," Sweet said. "We need to be aware of this association and understand it better. Our study is just a first peek at how debt may impact physical health."

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