Large debt may impact the mental and physical health of young Americans.
Young Americans, such as college students, drowning in debt are at risk of having high blood pressure and poor health, says a new North Western University study published in Social Science and Medicine.

Previous studies have found a link between debt and adverse psychological health in young adults, but this is the first to analyze physical as well as psychological effects. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health of 8,400 young adults aged 24 to 32; the researchers found that besides poorer mental health, those with debt had higher diastolic blood pressure and poorer self-reported general health. They also had high-risk health behaviors such as drinking, smoking, a low level of exercise, and a greater number of “poor mental health days” especially those with credit card debt of $1,000 or more.

The study found that 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.

Moreover, 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).

“We now live in a debt-fueled economy,” said Elizabeth Sweet, lead author of the study and 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.” She added that “you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see associations between debt and physical health in people who are so young. 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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