Money Keeps You Alive

If you’ve been meaning to ask your boss for a raise, let him or her know that earning more money could be good for your health. 

Low wages are a risk factor for high blood pressure, according to a study by researchers at the University of California at Davis. J. Paul Leigh, a professor of Health Economics, studies the role economics plays in human health. His previous work demonstrated that low wages increase a person’s likelihood of being obese, among other subjects.

In this recent round of research, Leigh and his team took a look at how wages affect high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Published in the latest issue of the European Journal of Public Health, the study not only shows a link between low wages and hypertension, but also notes that the highest risk is for women and people ages 25 to 44, two groups not typically at risk for hypertension.

The Strain of Being at the Bottom

“Job strain” has long been implicated in hypertension and other health problems related to work, but Leigh’s research was designed to focus solely on what a person earns and how it relates to hypertension. 

In the study, Leigh and his team used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which included working adults ages 25-65 over three different time periods. Subjects with known hypertension were automatically excluded from the research. Wages ranged from $2.38 to $77 per hour.  

In the end, the team noticed a statistically significant pattern.

“The level of wages in the previous year predicated whether you had hypertension in the next two years,” Leigh said Monday in an interview with Healthline. 

Job strain is prevalent in low-paying jobs, which are typically monotonous and offer employees little decision-making power. This includes highly regimented jobs, such as flipping burgers, and other entry-level positions. These psychological effects can increase a person’s stress level, which has negative health consequences.

“I think wages are important over the psychological portions of the job,” Leigh said, adding that wages are a better indicator of job stress than other factors.

More Money, Fewer Problems

Low wages can add numerous stresses to a person’s life, including worries about whether he or she has enough money to buy gas and groceries. People who make less are also more likely to eat processed foods, to use tobacco, and to have other lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of hypertension.

The U.C. Davis study concluded that a 10 percent increase in everyone’s wages would account for 132,000 fewer cases of hypertension per year. 

“It’s simply about having money and not having money,” Leigh said.

However, pinpointing the exact cause of increased hypertension risk as it relates to wages will require further research, especially among women subjects, Leigh said. 

Leigh noted that a larger data set could be used to help better explain the link between low wages and hypertension. Studying the effect of raising the minimum wage or the wages of the middle class could provide some interesting answers, he added.

Causes of Hypertension

Hypertension—more commonly known as high blood pressure—increases the force at which blood pumps through your veins. Uncontrolled hypertension has been linked to heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure. 

It is still unclear what causes hypertension, though the prevailing theory is that genetics and lifestyle choices, such as eating a high fat diet and not exercising regularly, play a role. A person’s sodium intake was thought to directly affect his or her blood pressure, but recent research indicates that may not be the case.

Leigh said that exposure to lead, carbon monoxide, nitro glycerin, and other toxins in the work place can also increase a person’s risk of hypertension. These exposures are more common in low-paying jobs, he said. 

Other risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • being obese
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • too little potassium in the diet
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • using tobacco products
  • being male

What Does This Mean for Me?

While the U.C. Davis study only shows a correlation between low wages and hypertension, not the underlying causes, there are plenty of smart health choices you can make to reduce your risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, regardless of your income:

  • Reduce the amount of processed food in your diet, especially fast food.
  • Get exercise daily, even if it’s just a short walk after work.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products (it’s also a good way to save money).
  • Incorporate as many dark green vegetables into your diet as possible.
  • Eat bananas and other foods high in potassium, which is good for your heart.
  • Keep your stress to a minimum (exercise can dramatically lower your stress levels).

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