Does student loan repayment have negative health consequences?

student loan repayment, mental health

Student loan repayment can heighten cardiovascular illness risk for middle-aged adults in the US, as mental health worsens with greater debt

People with student loan debt, particularly those in early middle age, have a higher risk of cardiovascular illness related to student loan repayment – which can weaken the usual mental and physical health benefits of degree completion.

The worst health consequences, seen with an elevated risk of cardiovascular illness, linked with student loan repayment were among those who failed to pay down student debt, or took on new educational debt, between young adulthood and early mid-life.

However, those who were able to repay their student debt had improved or equivalent health to those who never faced student loan repayment debt.

Student loans, which are notoriously high in United States higher education institutes, are becoming increasingly difficult to pay and manage with additional interest rates which continue to rise annually.

The research provides findings of the potential population health implications of transitioning to debt-financed education in the US, advocating for the relief of the student loan repayment burden to potentially improve population health – especially for those with weaker cardiovascular health.

24% of US adults have consistent student loan debt

Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers took data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, analysing 20,745 adolescents in Grades 7 to 12 first interviewed during the 1994-1995 school year.

The data assessed biological measures of cardiovascular health of 4,193 qualifying respondents using the 30-year Framingham cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk score – taking into account sex, age, blood pressure, antihypertensive treatment, smoking status, diabetes diagnosis, and body mass index to measure the likelihood of a cardiovascular illness over the next 30 years of life.

Also looking at levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) – a biomarker of chronic or systemic inflammation – the study classified student debt according to the following categories: never had student debt, paid off debt, took on debt, and consistently in debt.

The researchers also adjusted for respondent household and family characteristics including education, income, and other demographics.

Mental illness and stress have a direct correlation with poorer cardiovascular health

Lead investigator Adam M. Lippert, PhD, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado Denver, said: “As the cost of college has increased, students and their families have taken on more debt to get to and stay in college.

“Consequently, student debt is a massive financial burden to so many in the United States, and yet we know little about the potential long-term health consequences of this debt.

“Previous research showed that, in the short term, student debt burdens were associated with self-reported health and mental health, so we were interested in understanding whether student debt was associated with cardiovascular illness among adults in early mid-life.”

Degree completion can provide health benefits even to those with student debt

Over 37% of respondents did not report student debt or any student loan repayment, but the other 12% had paid off their loans, and around 28% took on student debt. A shocking 24% of respondents across the US consistently had student loan debt.

Those who consistently had debt or took on debt had higher CVD risk scores than individuals who had never been in debt and those who paid off their debt.

Additionally, respondents who paid off debt had significantly lower CVD risk scores than those never in debt. It was also found that clinically significant CRP value estimates for those who took on new debt or were consistently in debt between young adulthood and early mid-life, estimates exceeded their counterparts who never had debt or paid it off.

“Unless something is done to reduce the costs of going to college and forgive outstanding debts, the health consequences of climbing student loan debt are likely to grow.”

However, other analyses of respondent data found that degree completion provided health benefits even to those with student debt – yet these benefits were diminished relative to non-debtors.

Dr. Lippert said: “Our study respondents came of age and went to college at a time when student debt was rapidly rising with an average debt of around $25,000 for four-year college graduates. It’s risen more since then, leaving young cohorts with more student debt than any before them.

“Unless something is done to reduce the costs of going to college and forgive outstanding debts, the health consequences of climbing student loan debt are likely to grow.”


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