Economic insecurity during the Great Recession and metabolic, inflammatory and liver function biomarkers: analysis of the UK Household Longitudinal Study

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Abstract

Background

Economic insecurity correlates with adverse health outcomes, but the biological pathways involved are not well understood. We examine how changes in economic insecurity relate to metabolic, inflammatory and liver function biomarkers.

Methods

Blood analyte data were taken from 6520 individuals (aged 25–59 years) participating in Understanding Society. Economic insecurity was measured using an indicator of subjective financial strain and by asking participants whether they had missed any bill, council tax, rent or mortgage payments in the past year. We investigated longitudinal changes in economic insecurity (remained secure, increase in economic insecurity, decrease in economic insecurity, remained insecure) and the accumulation of economic insecurity. Linear regression models were calculated for nine (logged) biomarker outcomes related to metabolic, inflammatory, liver and kidney function (as falsification tests), adjusting for potential confounders.

Results

Compared with those who remained economically stable, people who experienced consistent economic insecurity (using both measures) had worsened levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol, triglycerides, C reactive protein (CRP), fibrinogen and glycated haemoglobin. Increased economic insecurity was associated with adverse levels of HDL-cholesterol (0.955, 95% CI 0.929 to 0.982), triglycerides (1.077, 95% CI 1.018 to 1.139) and CRP (1.114, 95% CI 1.012 to 1.227), using the measure of financial strain. Results for the other measure were generally consistent, apart from the higher levels of gamma-glutamyl transferase observed among those experiencing persistent insecurity (1.200, 95% CI 1.110 to 1.297).

Conclusion

Economic insecurity is associated with adverse metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers (particularly HDL-cholesterol, triglycerides and CRP), heightening risk for a range of health conditions.

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