Changes in a person's financial state have been recognized as a major cause of stress. Now researchers have investigated how a person's health is affected when their wealth mobility is altered. This study defined upward wealth mobility as a gain of one wealth quintile or more and downward wealth mobility was a loss of one wealth quintile compared to other people in their peer group over the period of the study; stable wealth meant no change.
This study, which was reported in JAMA Cardiology, suggested that a loss of wealth is linked to an increase in the risk of poor cardiovascular health while a gain in wealth was connected to protection from cardiovascular diseases.
"Decreases in wealth are associated with more stress, fewer healthy behaviors, and less leisure time, all of which are associated with poorer cardiovascular health," noted Andrew Sumarsono, M.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern. "It is possible that the inverse is true and may help to explain our study's findings."
This study included 5,579 adults over the age of 50 who did not have cardiovascular health problems at the start of the study. Data was collected in interviews conducted with the participants (or the relatives of deceased participants) between January 1992 and December 2016. Unlike some other studies, wealth data was categorized carefully; it took information about housing, loans, businesses, investments, and more into account.
"Income and wealth, while perhaps informally used interchangeably, actually provide different and complementary perspectives," said economist Sara Machado, Ph.D., of the London School of Economics. "Income reflects money received on a regular basis, while wealth is more holistic, encompassing both assets and debts. Could paying off one's debt with a large relative wealth increase be important in promoting cardiovascular health, even without changes in income?"
"Low wealth is a risk factor that can dynamically change over a person's life and can influence a person's cardiovascular health status," said Muthiah Vaduganathan, M.D., M.P.H. of Brigham and Women's Hospital. "So, it's a window of opportunity we have for an at-risk population. Buffering large changes in wealth should be an important focus for health policy moving ahead."
This study has not conclusively shown that a loss of wealth can cause a person's risk of cardiovascular health events to increase, or vice versa. The data used was based on interviews or self-reports, and there are many factors that can influence a person's likelihood of having cardiovascular problems. The study may still help us learn how to help people manage stressful events.
"Wealth and health are so closely integrated that we can no longer consider them apart," said Vaduganathan. "In future investigations, we need to make dedicated efforts to routinely measure wealth and consider it a key determinant of cardiovascular health."