Lower Income May Mean Higher Stress

Study shows anxiety, other woes rise as paychecks get smaller

FRIDAY, May 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Poorer Americans also tend to be more stressed out, a new study shows.

Researchers measured levels of three stress hormones -- epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol -- in 193 adults with annual incomes ranging from $2,500 to $162,500. The average income among the study participants was $17,500, with the average time spent in education pegged at just under 14 years.

Lower socioeconomic status was associated with higher levels of all three stress hormones, the researchers report in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. This association was independent of race, age, sex or level of overweight or obesity.

In addition, being poorer was also associated with higher rates of smoking, not eating breakfast regularly, and having a less diverse social network. These behavior and social factors seem to strengthen the link between socioeconomic status and hormone levels. Smoking alone accounted for about 63 percent of that association, the study said.

"The study does not have to do with poverty, per se," study author Sheldon Cohen, a psychiatry professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement. The purpose of the study was to learn more about how stressors can influence health.

"We need to really show that this relationship exists," Cohen said.

Having a strong social support network is known to reduce stress levels, and eating breakfast regularly is regarded as an indicator of overall healthy behavior. Every upward step in socioeconomic status increases the likelihood of better overall health, Cohen noted.

The findings also contradict the popular notion that executives and others in higher socioeconomic levels are more stressed out than people with lower socioeconomic status, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice about how to cope with stress.

SOURCE: Health Behavior News Service, news release, May 22, 2006
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