The Health Impacts Of Carrying Student Debt

Considering going to (or back to) college? Aside from the financial and time commitment involved, there's now another factor to consider — your long-term health. Now, a new study has found that students who accumulate and hang on to significant student debt into middle age, have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and psychiatric disorders (via Healthline). Considering that the student loans averaged nearly $30,000 for college graduates in 2019, long-term debt is a real — and growing — burden (via Nerdwallet).

Researchers of the study that was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined the results of at-home medical exams completed by 4,193 individuals between the ages of 33 and 44. They measured for cardiovascular risk factors, including age, sex, blood pressure, body mass index, and whether the person smoked or had diabetes. They also measured, via a blood sample, levels of the blood chemical C-reactive protein, which can indicate systemic, stress-related inflammation.

Long-term student debt can be a major stressor

Researchers then divided the study participants into four groups — those who never had student loans, those who paid them off, those who took on new loans, and those who always had debt. They found that those with debt or new debt were at a significantly higher risk of long-term cardiovascular and psychological problems, while those who paid their loans off early were as healthy or healthier than those who never accrued loans to start with (per the American Journal of Preventive Medicine).

The results cast doubt on the long-held presumed benefits of graduating from college, stating, "this study suggests that student debt attenuates the health benefits of college completion and the socioeconomic advantages of a 4-year credential" (via American Journal of Preventative Medicine). In other words, at current costs, college may not be worth it for everyone. Study author Dr. Adam M. Lippert, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Denver, tells Healthline, "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."