Harvard Study Finds Association Between Financial Stress and Risk of Heart Disease Among Blacks

A new study from Harvard University has found that African-Americans who experience moderate to high financial stress have greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than those who do not.

The research team analyzed 12 years of data from 2,256 participants in the Jackson Heart Study, a longitudinal cohort study of cardiovascular disease risk in African-American men and women living in the Jackson, Mississippi area. They examined participants who did not have evidence of heart disease at the beginning of the study. The participants were asked to rate the stress they experienced in several areas including financial hardship, such as trouble paying bills or running out-of-pocket money. The researchers also examined other participant characteristics and behaviors thought to lead to heart disease including low physical activity, smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression, whether participants had access to healthcare, education, and income.

After considering all these factors, the researchers found that African-American men and women who experience moderate to high financial stress had almost three times greater risk of heart disease events (such as heart attacks and procedures to investigate or treat heart disease) than those who did not experience stress due to finances. Those with mild financial stress had nearly two times the risk.

The combination of depression, smoking, and diabetes appeared to explain some of the connection between financial stress and heart disease, but, the study was limited to drawing associations in data and did not prove a causal connection. However, the researchers concluded that their results should prompt deeper investigation into the role of economic stress on disease risk and encourage polices to reduce these stressors.

“The information from this study covered experiences men and women had during the recession of 2007 and beyond,” said senior author Dr. Cheryl Clark. “As we think about policies to prevent heart disease, we need to know a lot more about how economic volatility and financial stress may be connected to heart disease so that we can prevent unnecessary stress that may affect heart health.”

Dr. Clark holds a bachelor’s degree in human biology, a master’s degree in health services research, and a medical doctorate all from Stanford University. She also holds a doctorate from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The full study, “Financial Stress and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in the Jackson Heart Study” was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. It may be accessed here.

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