The United States' federal student loan debt has surpassed one trillion dollars, a figure larger than that of national credit card borrowing. This is significant for many young Americans, especially those age 19-29, because student loan debt is 421% higher than the debt of other age groups. Recent research conducted at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine indicated there may be a link between high debt and poor health.
Elizabeth Sweet, lead author of this study and assistant professor of medical sciences at Northwestern University said, "I'm not sure that young people are more or less vulnerable to the health impacts of debt than others. That is a question that needs to be researched. The participants in our study were all young adults, and certainly we know that certain types of debt—like student loans—are of growing concern for that demographic."
This study evaluated data from a National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health survey that included 8,400 young adults aged 24-32. Researchers used this data to examine the connection between debt and health conditions, both psychological and physical.
Participants with higher debt compared to the national mean debt had a 1.3 percent rise—a clinically significant level—in diastolic blood pressure. Increased diastolic blood pressure is associated with higher risk of hypertension and stroke. Researchers also discovered an association between debt and poorer self-reported mental health in the study’s subjects.
"Debt doesn't just make you feel bad, but can actually make you physically sick... debt is an issue for almost all Americans, and understanding the health implications of debt for people of all ages is important and should be studied," added Sweet.
This study also indicated that young adults could ever die from the severity of their debt.
"We already know from other studies that being in debt is associated with stress, depression and even suicide. Our study goes beyond that to show that debt is also associated with worse physical health—including worse overall health and higher blood pressure," stated Sweet.
Experian, a credit reporting business, reported that Americans aged 19 to 29 have the least amount of debt overall. Proportionally, however, their debts are significant in comparison to national averages. For example, young adults' credit card debt is 24% higher than the national mean, for credit cards and 136% higher for auto loans.
"The participants in this study were young, 24 to 32 years old. I think the fact that we are seeing an impact of debt on health in people this young is surprising, and speaks to how potent debt might be as a risk factor for disease. But it also speaks to how significant debt is becoming among young people," stated Sweet.
In addition, 1,680 of the 8,400 participants reported that if they sold all their belongings and took advantage of all their benefits, they would remain in debt. Debt not only limits futures but also severely impacts health. This growing problem needs attention before it claims more victims.