High debt carried by young adults may be hazardous to health

Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:55 PM
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CHICAGO, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Carrying high financial debt is associated with higher blood pressure and poorer self-reported general and mental health in young U.S. adults, researchers say.

"We now live in a debt-fueled economy," lead author Elizabeth Sweet , an assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, said in a statement. "Since the 1980s U.S. household debt has tripled. It's important to understand the health consequences associated with debt."

Sweet and colleagues examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health involving 8,400 young adults, ages 24-32. Their study, scheduled to be published in the August issue of Social Science and Medicine, found:

-- 20 percent of participants reported they would still be in debt if they liquidated all of their assets.

-- Higher debt-to-asset ratio was associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure.

-- Those with higher debt were found to have a 1.3 percent increase in diastolic blood pressure -- which is clinically significant. A two-point increase in diastolic blood pressure, for example, is associated with a 17 percent higher risk of hypertension and a 15 percent higher risk of stroke.

-- Individuals with high compared to low debt reported higher levels of perceived stress.

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