Your first job may determine if you’ll develop heart disease later in life

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — For young adults, that first “real” job comes with all sorts of important milestones. Along with the first big paycheck and first real taste of responsibility, a new study finds that leap into the working world may also determine your heart health for the rest of your life. Scientists in the United Kingdom say employment experiences during early adulthood have a connection to a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease later on.

Success later on won’t repair early heart stress?

A team from the Universities of Cambridge, Bristol, and the University College London’s Social Research Institute find that both education and job stresses during a person’s late teens and early 20s can predict who will or won’t suffer from heart trouble 20 years later. Moreover, researchers say these early experiences in the working world actually have a stronger link to heart health during middle age than that same person’s current job when they reach their 40s.

Researchers looked at the health records of more than 12,000 people in the 1970 British Birth Cohort during their study. The team then used a data-driven method to separate these individuals into different socioeconomic groups, depending on how much education they had, their job type, and how long they were unemployed between the ages of 16 and 24. Study authors then compared these results to each person’s cardiovascular risk factors at age 46. These measures included blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and waist circumference.

“Measuring socioeconomic position in early adulthood has always been difficult as this is a period of transition when most people’s occupations change over time. The method we’ve developed provides a flexible way to identify early adulthood socioeconomic position, and we hope that it will be used in future to answer other research questions related to this period of life,” explains Professor Kate Tilling from Bristol’s MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit in a media release.

Putting a bigger emphasis on recognizing stress in young workers

The results show that young workers who spent a longer time in school and quickly went into a professional or managerial role as a young adult displayed better cardiovascular health 20 years later. Interestingly, this link isn’t completely due to certain workers having a higher income or better job at age 46.

In fact, study authors believe their findings show that economic factors during middle age don’t contribute to the link between a young adult’s socioeconomic trajectory and future health. Instead, the authors believe companies and workers need to start paying more attention to stress, depression, and job demands on young employees.

“We found that an individual’s education and employment experiences in early adulthood had a far larger impact on measures of cardiovascular health more than twenty years later than their occupation or income at that time did,” says first author Dr. Eleanor Winpenny.

“These results suggest that we need to provide more support for young adults to allow healthy development into middle age and prevent disease in later life. Given the added disadvantage to young adults as a result the current coronavirus pandemic, there is an urgent need to understand and mitigate the effect these circumstances may be having on their future health.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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