Stress, the Hidden Factor in the Longevity Gap
A new analysis from the Hamilton Project released last Tuesday reveals that Biomarkers* of stress have risen much more rapidly for low-income people than for high-income ones.
The most recent data show that life expectancy of Americans declined in Y 2015, these statistics are not broken down by income
However, some experts say that the greatest declines were concentrated among lower and middle-income people, because for decades gaps in life expectancy by income have been widening without a clear explanation, as documented by a National Academy of Sciences report.
However, a sharp decline in smoking among high-income people is one partial explanation, but this and other identifiable factors cannot account for most of the growing longevity gap according to the experts.
It is suspected that the hidden factor is stress.
Life has become more stressful for low and moderate-income families than it is for high-income families, and in theory prolonged exposure to stress kills people.
A recent study found suggested a link between workplace stress and a decline in life expectancy, and that link was strong for low-income workers.
The new Hamilton Project analysis strengthens the evidence.
Researchers examined changes over time in the relationship between health and income. And, using laboratory measurements of health Biomarkers from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) they constructed a new measure of stress load.
The survey collects health measurements along with more traditional socioeconomic and related data, and because its data go back several decades it is an important measure. The Hamilton research team looked at the measurements from Y’s 1976-80 and 2009-14 to learn how things may have changed.
The researchers found a decline for all income groups, but for high-income people, the change was small and not statistically significant. For low-income people, the decline was larger and statistically significant.
The researchers next examined the data on Biomarkers that are associated with long-term stress.
Note: The approach did not measure the external environment, but rather how a person internalizes it.
The measurements involved have all been identified in the medical literature as predictors of illness and mortality: blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol; creatinine (kidney function); and albumin (liver function).
The researchers then combined these into 1 stress index based on how much each variable affected self-reported health.
The 2 Key features of the results stand out, they are:
- Across the board, stress loads have grown heavier since the 1970’s
- That increase has been larger for low-income people than for high-income people.
Research may never turn up definitive proof of the stress theory to explain the widening life expectancy gap. Nevertheless, these new results are evidence that stress load plays a crucial role in declining life expectancy among America’s low and middle-income families.
I have my own theories of Stress Driver among our population beginning with Madison Avenue, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Fast Food and Government Entitlements.
* Biomarker is a measurable substance in an organism whose presence is indicative of some phenomenon such as disease, infection, or environmental exposure.
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