MONDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- The lowest paid workers are at greater risk for high blood pressure than those taking home bigger paychecks, a new study suggests.
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This is particularly true for women and those between 25 and 44 years old, noted the researchers from University of California, Davis (UC Davis). The findings could help reduce the personal and financial costs of high blood pressure, or hypertension, which is a major health problem, the study authors pointed out in a university news release.
"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," study senior author J. Paul Leigh, a professor of public health sciences at UC Davis, said in the news release. "Our outcome shows that women and younger employees working at the lowest pay scales should be screened regularly for hypertension as well."
Using a national study of families in the United States, which included information on wages, jobs and health, the researchers compiled information on over 5,600 household heads and their spouses every two years from 1999 to 2005. All of the participants, who ranged from 25 to 65 years of age, were employed. The investigators also excluded anyone diagnosed with high blood pressure during the first year of each two-year interval.
The study found that the workers' wages (annual income divided by work hours) ranged from roughly $2.38 to $77 per hour in 1999 dollars. During the study, the participants also reported whether or not their doctor diagnosed them with high blood pressure.
Based on a statistical analysis, the researchers found that doubling a person's wage was associated with a 16 percent drop in their risk for hypertension. Doubling a worker's wage also reduced the risk for hypertension by 1.2 percent over two years and 0.6 percent for one year.
"That means that if there were 110 million persons employed in the U.S. between the ages of 25 and 65 per year during the entire timeframe of the study -- from 1999 until 2005 -- then a 10 percent increase in everyone's wages would have resulted in 132,000 fewer cases of hypertension each year," Leigh explained.
The researchers also calculated that doubling the wages of younger workers was associated with a 25 to 30 percent reduction in the risk for hypertension. For women, earning twice as much reduced their risk by 30 to 35 percent.
The study, which was published in the December issue of the European Journal of Public Health, could have been limited by the fact that it relied on participants to report a hypertension diagnosis, the researchers pointed out.
"Other research has shown that women are more likely than men to report a health diagnosis," noted Leigh. "However, the longitudinal nature of the data used in our study helps mitigate that natural bias, and self-reports of health do typically correlate with clinical data."
The study authors said more research is needed to explore the link between low wages and hypertension.
"If the outcomes are the same, we could have identified a way to help reduce the costs and personal impact of a major health crisis," Leigh concluded. "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."
Hypertension, which contributes to heart disease and stroke, affects approximately one in three adults in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also reports the condition costs more than $90 billion each year in health-care services, medications and missed work.
While the study found an association between wages and blood pressure levels, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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SOURCE: University of California, Davis, news release, Jan. 3, 2013