Student Loans Can Impair Heart Health into Middle Age, Study Results Show

Individuals with college debt have a higher risk of cardiovascular illness, undermining the typical benefits of a post-secondary education, data indicate.

Adults who failed to pay down student debt or took on new educational debt between young adulthood and early mid-life faced an elevated risk of cardiovascular (CV) illness, results of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine show.

Additionally, individuals who repaid their student debt had better or equivalent health than individuals who never faced student debt, which suggests that relieving the burden of student debt could improve population health.

“As the cost of college has increased, students and their families have taken on more debt to get to and stay in college. Consequently, student debt is a massive financial burden to so many in the United States, and yet we know little about the potential long-term health consequences of this debt,” Adam Lippert, PhD, from the Department of Sociology at University of Colorado Denver, said in a statement.

“Previous research showed that, in the short term, student debt burdens were associated with self-reported health and mental health, so we were interested in understanding whether student debt was associated with cardiovascular illness among adults in early mid-life,” Lippert said.

The study included data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which is a panel of 20,745 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 who were first interviewed during the 1994-1995 school year.

Four subsequent waves of data were collected, which included wave 3, where the respondents were aged 18 to 26 years, and wave 5, where the respondents were aged 22 to 44 years, and were invited to in-home medical exams.

Investigators assessed biological measures of CV health of 4193 qualifying individuals using the 30-year Framingham cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk score, which considers age, antihypertensive treatment, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes diagnosis, sex, and smoking status, to measure the likelihood of CVD over the next 30 years.

Additionally, investigators looked at levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker of chronic or systemic inflammation.

Student debt was classified into categories that included consistently in debt, never had student debt, paid off debt between waves 3 and 5, and took on debt between waves.

The models were adjusted for respondent family and household characteristics, including education, income, and other demographics.

Investigators found that more than one-third of respondents did not report student debt in either wave, while 24% consistently had debt, 12% had paid off their loans, and 28% took on student debt.

Individuals who consistently had debt or took on debt had higher CVD risk scores than those who had never been in debt and those who paid off their debt. Additionally, individuals who paid off debt had significantly lower CVD risk scores than those never in debt.

Investigators also found clinically significant CRP value estimates for those who took on new debt and those who were consistently in debt between young adulthood and early mid-life, which exceeded those who never had debt or paid off debt.

Ethnicity and results had no impact on the results, according to investigators.

Reference

Student debt can impair your cardiovascular health into middle age. EurekAlert. News release. May 3, 2022. Accessed May 3, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/951393