Upwardly mobile adults may sacrifice heart health for improved economic status, a new study has found. Photo by Amanda Mills/CDC
April 28 (UPI) -- The rich may get richer, but they don't always have healthier hearts, according to an analysis published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Researchers found that "upwardly mobile" adults -- essentially those with lower incomes earlier in life who rose up the socioeconomic ladder -- had significantly less stress and lower rates of depression than those less fortunate, but had a higher risk for metabolic syndrome.
More than 30 percent of all American adults have metabolic syndrome, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is most common among white males.
Metabolic syndrome is actually a collection of symptoms -- including being overweight and having high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and high blood glucose -- that are signs of future increased risk for diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
In their analysis of data from two studies, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Midlife in the United States Study, researchers assessed health information on more than 9,400 Americans from adolescence into adulthood.
They grouped participants into one of four categories based on their family income during childhood and adulthood: those who were consistently advantaged or consistently disadvantaged and those who experienced upward or downward mobility -- meaning higher or lower income in adulthood relative to childhood.
They sought to identify any connections between various "psychosocial factors," like perceived stress, and cardiovascular health.
Perhaps not surprisingly, downwardly mobile and consistently disadvantaged adults had higher perceived stress levels than their upwardly mobile and consistently advantaged counterparts. Similarly, the prevalence of depression was higher among these groups, at 25 to 30 percent to compared to roughly 15 percent.
Notably, though, the pattern was reversed for metabolic syndrome. As much as 45 percent of the upwardly mobile participants were diagnosed with the condition, more than any of the other groups in the analysis.
Because higher socioeconomic status has historically been associated with fewer health problems, researchers noted, it is commonly believed that as people's financial conditions improve, so will their health.
The new findings, however, suggest that upward mobility entails a "trade-off," in which improving financial conditions bring better psychological well-being but worse cardiometabolic health.