Sudden, unpredictable drops in personal income during young adulthood are associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease and/or dying from any cause, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation .

In the United States, the recent rise in income inequality suggests that a larger proportion of the population faces poverty and economic difficulties. In addition, while most people experience some income change, income volatility has been on the rise and has reached a record high level since 1980.

The study found that the biggest fluctuations in personal income were significantly associated with nearly double the risk of death and more than double the risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes, heart failure or death during the following 10 years compared to a similar group of people with less fluctuation in personal income. Women and African-Americans were more likely to experience high income volatility and income drops than white men.

“Income volatility presents a growing public health threat, especially when federal programs, which are meant to help absorb unpredictable income changes, are undergoing continuous changes, and mostly cuts,” said study lead author Tali Elfassy, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida.

“While this study is observational in nature and certainly not an evaluation of such programs, our results do highlight that large negative changes in income may be detrimental to heart health and may contribute to premature death,” Elfassy said.

The study analyzed data from the ongoing Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study that is following 3,937 people living in four diverse U.S. cities – Birmingham, Alabama; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Oakland, California.