Low Wages Linked with Hypertension

Photo: Doctor and patient

Hypertension is a major contributor to heart
disease and stroke; © panthermedia.net/Zsolt

The correlation between wages and hypertension was especially strong among women and persons between the ages of 25 to 44.
“We were surprised that low wages were such a strong risk factor for two populations not typically associated with hypertension, which is more often linked with being older and male,” said J. Paul Leigh, senior author of the study. “Our outcome shows that women and younger employees working at the lowest pay scales should be screened regularly for hypertension as well.”

The study is believed to be the first to isolate the role of wages in hypertension, which occurs when the force of circulating blood against artery walls is too high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypertension affects approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States and costs more than 90 billion Dollars each year in health-care services, medications and missed work days. It also is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death and disability.

While there is a known association between lower socioeconomic status (SES) and hypertension, determining the specific reason for that association has been difficult, according to Leigh. Other researchers have focused on factors such as occupation, job strain, education and insurance coverage, with unclear results. Leigh’s study was the first to focus on wages and hypertension.

“By isolating a direct and fundamental aspect of work that people greatly value, we were able to shed light on the relationship between SES and circulatory health,” said Leigh. “Wages are also a part of the employment environment that easily can be changed. Policymakers can raise the minimum wage, which tends to increase wages overall and could have significant public-health benefits.”

In conducting the study, the team used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a highly regarded database in social science. This longitudinal, representative study of families in the United States includes information on wages, employment and health, including hypertension status. The team used information from a total of 5,651 household heads and their spouses for three time periods: 1999-2001, 2001-03 and 2003-05. The sample was limited to working adults between 25 and 65 years of age. Anyone with hypertension during the first year (e.g., 1999) of each time period was eliminated from the final sample.

Wages were calculated as annual income from all sources divided by work hours and ranged from about 2.38 to 77 Dollars per hour in 1999 dollars. Hypertension was determined by respondents’ self-reports of a hypertension diagnosis from their physicians.

The team used logistic regressions for the statistical analysis, and found that doubling the wage was associated with a 16 percent decrease in the risk of a hypertension diagnosis. Doubling the wage reduced the risk of a hypertension diagnosis by 1.2 percent over two years and 0.6 percent for one year.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of California Davis