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A recent Northwestern Medicine report shows that the debt of young adults takes a major toll on their physical and emotional well-being.

The study, published in Social Science & Medicine, reveals that participants between ages 24 and 32 who have heavy debt report higher levels of depression and stress than young adults who owe less. They also have worse general health and higher diastolic blood pressure — a precursor to heart attacks and strokes.

“The health of younger adults tends to be more resilient,” says Thomas McDade, PhD, Northwestern University professor of anthropology. “So the fact that we’re finding associations with debt speaks to the substantial toll it may be exacting.”

Between 2003 and 2012, the number of 25-year-olds with student loans increased from 25 to 43 percent, and their loan averages nearly doubled, leaping from $10,649 to $20,326. Credit cards are also a growing concern: An Ohio State University study shows that young adults carry an average of $5,689 more credit-card debt than their parents and $8,156 more than their grandparents.

While debt can feel crippling, there are solutions, McDade says: “Being proactive in managing and reducing debt should help by providing some sense of control over the situation.”

Credit-counseling services, refinancing options, and programs for student-loan forgiveness — often available for teachers and those who work in the public sector — are all ways to start taking charge of debt. (For more on dealing with the stress of credit-card debt, see “The Pain of Plastic Money“.)

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