Northwestern study links young adults’ debt to poor physical, mental health

Jeanne Kuang, Assistant Summer Editor

A new Northwestern study has found that financial problems can turn into health concerns for young people in debt.

The study shows higher debt can lead to higher blood pressure and poorer mental and physical health. Published in this month’s issue of “Social Science and Medicine,” it is the first study to consider physical health as it relates to debt, according to the University.

Researchers studied 8,400 adults between 24 and 32 years old, finding that those with higher debt had an 11.7 percent increase in perceived stress, 13.2 percent increase in depressive symptoms and clinically significant 1.3 percent increase in diastolic blood pressure, relative to the mean. Higher blood pressure can lead to greater risks of hypertension and stroke.

“You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see associations between debt and physical health in people who are so young,” Feinberg Prof. Elizabeth Sweet said in a news release. “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.”

Sweet, lead author of the study, is a faculty associate of Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health, at NU’s Institute for Policy Research.

The study asked participants two questions about their personal debt then used a series of questions to measure perceived stress, depressive symptoms and general health. Field interviewers measured participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

Jeanne Kuang