Higher economic status does not always translate into


DALLAS, April 28, 2020 – Upward income mobility is associated with a trade-off between wellness and cardiometabolic health, according to a new study published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association. The article appears in a special issue dedicated to exploring different aspects of the complex relationships between psychosocial factors and cardiovascular health.

To study cardiometabolic health, research has focused on metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of signs that predispose individuals to subsequent diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. These signs include abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and high blood sugar.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Georgia analyzed data from two studies spanning several decades: 7,542 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and 1,877 participants in the Midlife in the United States Study. Participants entered the studies when they were young and were followed into adulthood. They grouped participants into one of four categories based on their family income during childhood and adulthood: those who were systematically advantaged or systematically disadvantaged, and those who experienced upward or downward mobility (i.e. i.e. higher or lower income in adulthood compared to childhood).

Main conclusions of the researchers:

  • Participants with upward mobility reported significantly less psychological distress than consistently disadvantaged people. In fact, in most comparisons, their levels of distress were comparable to those of consistently advantaged participants.
  • However, this pattern was reversed for metabolic syndrome: upward mobile participants fared worse than those with constant advantage and closely resembled individuals with constant disadvantage.
  • Since high socioeconomic status is associated with fewer health problems, it is generally believed that as people’s financial situation improves, their health will improve as well. However, these results suggest that upward mobility involves a trade-off, where improved financial conditions predict higher psychological well-being, but poorer cardiometabolic health.
  • Upward mobility is not always beneficial for cardiometabolic health, although it improves economic conditions and mental health.

Study co-authors, disclosures, and funding sources are detailed in the manuscript.


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