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Debt Puts Young People At Risk of Physical and Mental Problems

Update Date: Aug 16, 2013 01:08 PM EDT

Debt affects more than just your finances- it can also put your health in danger.

Researchers at Northwestern University recently linked high financial debt to higher diastolic blood pressure and poorer self-reported general and mental health in young adults.

Researchers said the study offers a glimpse into the impact debt may have on the health of young Americans. Previous studies linked debt to adverse psychological health, but the latest study is the first to look at physical health as well.

"We now live in a debt-fueled economy," lead author Elizabeth Sweet said in a news release. "Since the 1980s American household debt has tripled. It's important to understand the health consequences associated with debt."

The study involved data from 8,400 young adults between 24 and 32 years old, and examined the association between debt and both psychological and general health outcomes.

Researchers found that higher debt-to-asset ratio was associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure.

Participants with higher debt had a 1.3 percent increase in diastolic blood pressure, which researchers said is clinically significant. Researchers explained that a two-point increase in diastolic blood pressure is associated with a 17 percent higher risk of hypertension and a 15 percent higher risk of stroke.

Participants with high debt also 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).

Researchers said the latest findings are surprising because they didn't expect debt to have such a significant impact on young adults.

"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."

The findings are published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

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