Study links income to heart disease in younger adults

Income volatility may be linked with increased risk of developing heart disease

During the study, researchers found that people with the biggest fluctuations in personal income are significantly associated with double the risk of death when compared to people who have a steady income source.

And that means people who have experienced major income fluctuations may need to be part of high-priority screening groups for cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.

A fluctuating personal income can harm a person's financial well-being.

Unpredictable drops in income are also associated with all causes of mortality, according to the study.

Participants were aged 23-35 years old in 1990 when the study began. Women and African-Americans were more likely to experience high income volatility and income drops than white men.

"Income volatility presents a growing public health threat, especially when federal programs, which are meant to help absorb unpredictable income changes, are undergoing continuous changes, and mostly cuts".

The study noted while from young adulthood through midlife, most individuals experience at least some increases in income.

"We found that individuals in the highest third of income volatility - the individuals with the most fluctuation in income - had an nearly double risk of cardiovascular disease and death in the subsequent 10 years, compared with people who had the least fluctuation in income", said lead researcher Tali Elfassy.

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To explore that topic, the researchers turned to a large-scale ongoing heart study being conducted in four urban areas in the United States: Chicago; Minneapolis; Birmingham, Ala.; and Oakland, Calif. "Income volatility is very common, and it's something that needs to be considered in terms of cardiovascular disease risk since we are finding it is an independent contributor", Elfassy said.

The study was not able to determine the cause of the association between income volatility and health because it was observational and not created to prove cause and effect.

The pervasiveness of income volatility is a pressing threat to public health, according to the study's authors.

People under stress tend to have increased blood pressure and inflammation, likely due to higher levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, Arnett said.

The researchers collected data on changes in income in five assessments from 1990 to 2005.

So, what should you do if you're someone with highly unstable income? "We assumed that income drops or frequent changes in income were probably not good for health, considering that these are thought of as stressful events". You go into survival mode. "It makes sense for physicians to ask if anything traumatic has recently happened to their patients", says Elfassy, "so they can refer them to seek mental health counseling or give them positive words of affirmation". Simply going for a 15-minute walk every day would have benefits in and of itself.

The study was published online January 7 in the journal Circulation.

The American Heart Association has more about stress and heart disease.

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