DENVER (StudyFinds.org) — Could college debt cancellation keep a student’s heart healthier later in life? A new study shows that graduates who struggle to pay off student loans into middle age are more at risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
A team of researchers from across the United States add that this compound undermines the usual health benefits that come with higher education.
“As the cost of college has increased, students and their families have taken on more debt to attend and stay in college,” says lead author Dr. Adam Lippert from the University of Colorado in a media release.
“As a result, college debt is a massive financial drain on so many people in the United States, and yet we know little about the potential long-term health consequences of this debt. Previous research showed that student debt burden was associated with self-reported health and mental health in the short term. Therefore, we were interested in understanding whether student debt was associated with cardiovascular disease in early midlife adults.”
College can leave some in debt for life
It is estimated that the average tuition for the 2021-22 school year will be over $10,000 for students staying at a public university in the state. If you go to school out of state, that number jumps to more than $22,000! For those who attend a private university, their tuition and fees this year total over $38,000!
The study found that people who couldn’t pay their college debts between young adulthood and early midlife were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the health of those who paid off their loans was equal or even better than that of those who never faced that financial burden.
The team analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). They tracked more than 20,000 participants aged 12 to 44. A subset of 4,193 respondents underwent home medical examinations. The researchers also used a measuring tool to estimate each person’s likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 30 years of life. The Framingham risk score for cardiovascular disease takes into account gender, age, blood pressure, smoking status, diabetes diagnosis 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 college debt (37%), those who paid it off (12%), those who took on new debt in young adulthood (28%), and those who who are constantly in debt (24%).
Those who were constantly in debt or incurring debt had higher CVD risk scores than those who were never in debt or those who repaid their debt. Interestingly, respondents who had paid off debt had significantly lower CVD risk scores than those who had never had debt.
The average college graduate owes $25,000
The study’s authors discovered clinically significant estimates of CRP in those who took on new debt or were in debt consistently between young adulthood and early midlife. These estimates outperformed their counterparts that never owed or paid off. Race or ethnicity did not affect the results.
“Our study participants came of age and entered college at a time when student debt was rising rapidly, with an average debt of about $25,000 for four-year college graduates. It has continued to rise since then, leaving young cohorts with more college debt than ever before,” adds Dr. Added Lippert. “Unless steps are taken to lower the cost of college and cancel outstanding debt, the health consequences of rising student loan debt are likely to increase.”
Further analysis suggests that completing a college degree also offers health benefits for those with student debt. However, these graduates had fewer benefits compared to non-debtors. dr Lippert believes the results show the potential impact of debt-financed education on population health.
He adds that while the empirical evidence for the economic and health benefits of a college degree is clear, these benefits come at a cost to borrowers.
The study appears in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Mark Waghorn, author for the South West News Service, contributed to this report.
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