Study: Sudden wealth loss can heighten risk of death by 50%

Americans who experienced a "negative wealth shock," or the loss of at least 75 percent of their wealth in two years, faced a 50 percent increased risk of death in the next 20 years, according to a study published in JAMA.

The study, which involved more than 8,000 Americans, marks the first to identify a link between significant financial setbacks and an increased risk of dying in the long term, said study author Lindsay Pool, PhD, according to NPR.

The study authors analyzed data gathered every two years between 1994 and 2014 from 8,714 adults ages 51 to 61 when they became involved in the Health and Retirement Study, which is an ongoing nationally representative study.

The researchers found more than one-fourth of the study subjects (2,430 people) suffered a negative wealth shock. "This is an issue that is potentially impacting millions of Americans," Dr. Pool said.

When comparing the people who suffered a negative wealth shock to people who had never possessed a lot of money, the researchers found the loss of money put these two groups at nearly the same risk level for dying prematurely.

The researchers emphasized they would not be able to exclude the possibility that health problems were the reason people lost so much money in the first place and that these health problems put them at a higher risk of dying prematurely. However, Dr. Pool said the study authors attempted to factor this into the analysis and found the association continued even after considering existing health problems.

Sudden loss of wealth could increase a person's risk of dying in a number of ways, Dr. Pool said. The loss could create stress and increase the risk of depression or high blood pressure, which increase the odds of dying over the long term. Additionally, people who experience bankruptcy could also experience difficulty affording healthcare visits and medications, Dr. Pool said.

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