DENVER (StudyFinds.org) — Could forgiving college debt keep a student’s heart healthier later in life? Graduates who struggle to repay student loans well into middle age are more prone to heart disease, the world’s number one killer, a new study finds.
A team of researchers from across the United States adds that this link undermines the usual health benefits that come with higher education.
“As the cost of college has risen, students and their families have gone into debt to get to and stay in college,” says lead author Dr. Adam Lippert of the University of Colorado, in a Press release.
“As a result, student debt is an enormous financial burden for so many people in the United States, yet we know little about the potential long-term health consequences of this debt. Previous research has shown that in the short term, student debt burden is associated with self-reported health and mental health. We therefore wanted to know whether student debt was associated with cardiovascular disease in adults in their early 40s.
College can leave some with a life of debt
Estimates show that the average tuition for the 2021-22 school year is over $10,000 for students staying at a public university. If you go to school out of state, that number jumps to over $22,000! For those attending a private university, their tuition this year is over $38,000!
The study found that people who defaulted on their college debt between early adulthood and early 40s were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the health of those who repaid their loans was equal or even better than those who never faced this financial burden.
The team analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health (Add Health). They followed more than 20,000 participants aged 12 to 44. A subset of 4,193 respondents underwent medical examinations, carried out at home. The researchers also used a measurement tool to estimate each person’s risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 30 years of their life. The Framingham Cardiovascular Disease Risk Score takes into account gender, age, blood pressure, smoking status, diagnosis of diabetes, and body mass index (BMI). The researchers also looked at levels of a blood chemical called C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a sign of chronic or systemic inflammation.
The team divided these participants into four groups, including those who never had student debt (37%), those who paid it off (12%), those who took on new debt at the start of adulthood (28%) and those who are constantly in debt (24%).
People who were in debt or constantly in debt had higher cardiovascular risk scores than people who had never been in debt or those who had paid off their debt. Interestingly, respondents who paid off their debts had significantly lower cardiovascular risk scores than those who had never been in debt.
The average college graduate owes $25,000
The study authors found clinically meaningful estimates of the value of CRP in those who incurred new debt or were in regular debt between early adulthood and early 40s. These estimates exceeded those of their counterparts who had never had debt or had never repaid it. Race or ethnicity had no impact on the results.
“Respondents in our study came of age and went to college at a time when student debt was growing rapidly with an average debt of about $25,000 for four-year college graduates. It has grown more since then. , leaving younger cohorts with more student debt than any that came before them,” adds Dr. Lippert. “Unless something is done to reduce the costs of going to college and write off unpaid debt, the health consequences of rising student debt are likely to increase.”
Other analyzes suggest that earning a college degree provides health benefits even to those with student debt. However, these graduates enjoyed fewer benefits than non-debtors. Dr Lippert believes the findings point to the potential population health implications of debt-financed education.
He adds that while the empirical evidence is clear on the economic and health returns of a college degree, these benefits come at a cost to borrowers.
The study is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.
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