High debt could be hazardous to your health

Aug. 15, 2013 — If young people are drowning in debt, their blood pressure may be on the rise and their health could suffer. A new Northwestern Medicine® study has found that high financial debt is associated with higher diastolic blood pressure and poorer self-reported general and mental health in young adults.The study, published in the August issue of Social Science and Medicine, offers a glimpse into the impact debt may have on the health of young Americans.”We now live in a debt-fueled economy,” said Elizabeth Sweet, lead author of the study. “Since the 1980s American household debt has tripled. It’s important to understand the health consequences associated with debt.”Sweet is an assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a faculty associate of Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health, at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern.Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to explore the association between debt and both psychological and general health outcomes in 8,400 young adults, ages 24 to 32 years old.Previous studies have found evidence that debt is associated with adverse psychological health, but this is the first to look at physical health as well.Here are some 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). 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 (relative to the mean) 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.The researchers found that individuals with high compared to low debt reported higher levels of perceived stress (representing an 11.7 percent increase relative to the mean) and higher depressive symptoms (a 13.2 percent increase relative to the mean).”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.”In the study, personal financial debt was measured in two ways. …

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Loan debt shapes students’ college years, experiences

Aug. 10, 2013 — An Indiana University study found that college students’ experiences are largely shaped by the debt they accrue, with debt-free students more likely to live the “play hard” lifestyle often associated with the college years, where social lives can trump academics.Sociologist Daniel Rudel said this is one of the first studies to examine how student loan debt affects students’ college experiences. He and colleague Natasha Yurk, also a graduate student in the Department of Sociology in IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences, found “real and significant differences in experiences,” with students falling fairly easily into one of three categories.• Play hard.Students without loan debt appeared most likely to live a lifestyle characterized by relatively little time studying but also characterized by a rich social life. Students tended to be much more involved in extracurricular activities and spent more time partying, developing relationships and networks that could last long after college.• Disengaged students.Some students with debt appeared to see it as a liability that kept them from partaking in campus life. They spent relatively little time on campus activities, including studying.• Serious students.Some students with debt appeared to accept the challenge and responsibility of the debt. They studied more than the other two categories of students, worked but also participated in extracurricular activities to prepare themselves for a good job after graduation. These students did not party much.”These patterns could affect the social connections and networking students develop in college, where these relationships can lead to friendships, employment, marriage partners and other benefits,” Rudel said.Rudel and Yurk discussed their study, “Responsibility or Liability? Student Loan Debt and Time Use in College,” in New York at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the American Sociological Association’s 108th annual meeting.The researchers examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, housed in the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. Students interviewed from 1999 to 2003 attended one of 28 selective U.S. …

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