The Great Recession of 2008 was spectacularly bad, catapulting the United States into economic stress not experienced since the Great Depression. Ignited by a housing market bubble burst and corrupt banks, the crash was widely felt, manifesting as unemployment, home loss, and stock market-induced crashes in family wealth. This economic downturn, scientists reported on Monday, affected the health of those who were forced to choose financial survival over well-being.

From 2000 to 2012, there was a significant population-wide increase in blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels, reports a team of American researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. People who were already on medication for those ailments before the Great Recession began were hit the hardest. The rise in blood pressure and blood glucose coincided with a sharp drop in the use of the medications used to control them, indicating that the recession forced people to stop purchasing them.

“These shifts in medication use and treatment intensity alone, cannot explain the worsening of the health indicators, and the evidence suggests that the stresses of the Great Recession took their greatest toll on those who are on medication,” scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, Drexel University, and Duke University write.

Great Recession, economics
Massive closures happened in the wake of the Great Recession.

The data for this study were drawn from a longitudinal analysis of 4,600 Americans within the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), collected between 2000 and 2012. The study detailed the health and economic status of people living in large geographic areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. At the beginning of the survey, participants were between 45 and 84 years old.

Analysis of this data in bulk revealed that people on medications experienced an “increased vulnerability to economic stress.” Within this group, blood pressure rose the greatest among the younger cohort. These people were more likely in the labor market and concerned about retirement in the coming years — the exact position where forgoing medication may seem like the more economically viable decision.

The effects were substantially and significantly smaller for people on medication who were over the age of 65 and had not completed college. These people were the least likely to be affected by the recession among the four demographic groups and relied on Social Security for their health needs instead of a retirement plan invested in the stock market.

“The findings point to significantly greater impacts among those on medication — possibly because prior medication use serves as an indication of a population subgroup with preexisting physiological vulnerability to stress,” the authors write.

“The findings themselves underscore the fact that economic upheavals such as the Great Recession not only result in deleterious economic consequences that impact some population subgroups more than others, but that those same population subgroups shoulder more deleterious health impacts as well.”