Credit score heart sign

Prof Richie Poulton reflects on links between credit ratings  and heart health. Photo by Linda...
Prof Richie Poulton reflects on links between credit ratings and heart health. Photo by Linda Robertson.

New Zealand should remain alert to avoid any misuse of credit information, after University of Otago research highlighted links between personal credit scores and heart health.

Prof Richie Poulton, director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, made that point yesterday after publication this week of the latest research, based on new analysis of Dunedin study data.

The study tracks the health of about 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73.

The latest paper from the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds a strong relationship between low credit scores, or credit ratings, and poor cardiovascular health.

This and other research arising from the Otago University health and development study found self-control, planning ahead and perseverance were attributes that predicted better financial status and better health.

A co-author of the paper, Prof Terrie Moffitt, of Duke University in the United States, said that ''people who don't take care of their money don't take care of their health''.

Researchers found about 20% of the relationship between credit scores and heart health was accounted for by the attitudes, behaviours and competencies displayed by Dunedin study members when they were younger than age 10.

Using a standard measure called the Framingham cardiovascular risk score, researchers estimated the ''heart age'' of their participants, based on various measures, including blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

At age 38, the participants' estimated heart ages ranged from 22 to 85 years.

Prof Poulton, director of the Dunedin study, said that, in some countries, credit scoring was already being used by employers to screen prospective applicants, and by phone and utility companies to price contracts.

Concern about potential misuse of such data was a ''hot'' issue in the United States.

The New Zealand situation was ''very different'' because of protection provided by the Privacy Act, and the Credit Reporting Privacy Code 2004 tightly regulated who could access credit scores, and for what purpose.

Credit scores revealed ''quite a bit'' about a person, but were ''an imperfect measure'' of personal characteristics as they could be easily influenced by ''inaccuracies in credit history reporting, adverse personal events'' and other factors.

The research was supported by the Health Research Council, and several overseas funding bodies.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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