Sudden drops in personal income double risk of heart disease, study says

DALLAS — Sudden drops in income during young adulthood may significantly raise one’s risk of heart disease and/or an early death from any cause, a new study finds.

Researchers say that individuals dealt two or more significant drops in personal income, or those who experience the largest fluctuations in pay, are nearly twice as likely to suffer a premature death. They’re also more than twice as likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, such as suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. These increased risks were present for 10 years after a sudden drop in personal income.

The study also finds that women and African-Americans are more likely than white men to experience extreme income volatility and income drop-offs.

“Income volatility presents a growing public health threat, especially when federal programs, which are meant to help absorb unpredictable income changes, are undergoing continuous changes, and mostly cuts,” says lead author Dr. Tali Elfassy, an assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in a release by the American Heart Association. “While this study is observational in nature and certainly not an evaluation of such programs, our results do highlight that large negative changes in income may be detrimental to heart health and may contribute to premature death.”

Recent increases in income inequality in the United States are dumping wider swaths of the population into economic difficulties and outright poverty. While most people typically experience a degree of income changes and shifts during their lifetimes, income volatility has risen to its highest levels since 1980, according to economic research.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the ongoing Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which follows 3,937 people in four cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Minneapolis, Chicago, and Oakland, California. The study began in 1990 and tracked participants between ages 23 and 35 when the study started.

Researchers collected income fluctuation data using five assessments between 1990 and 2005. Income volatility was recorded as the percent change in income from one measurement to the next. The authors then analyzed fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events and all causes of death among participants between 2005 and 2015.

The authors note the findings are observational and could not determine the cause linking income volatility and heart health.

The study was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

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