Researchers Say Level of Education and Health Causally Linked


Researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that getting a high school diploma is as good for your health as quitting smoking.

The findings revealed that if every adult high school dropout in the population in the year 2010 had a GED or a diploma, 145,243 deaths could have been avoided, reports Anya Kamenetz for NPR.

For that year, 110,068 deaths could have been averted if every adult who already had some college under their belts finished their BA. Along with that, if every person in the population earned a BA, the total number of untimely deaths would be lessened by 554,525.

Virginia Chang , an associate professor of public health and of population health at NYU and co-author of the study, says:

“We’re not going to make everyone have a BA all of a sudden.”

The fact that education levels and health are linked is not a new discovery, but this research found the link is strengthening in recent generations.

“In the simplest version, people with more education have higher income and more money,” Chang says. “They can afford to eat better, a gym membership or a personal trainer, support to quit smoking.”

The more education a person has, the less likely that person will be obese. A direct effect of education is that it gives a person more knowledge about health, more access to sources to retrieve that knowledge, a sense of control, more power, and better connections to peers. The team says they are fairly sure that the connection between health and education “is causal.”

Data was retrieved from the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, an assessment of the health of the civilian population over a long period of time, and the findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE, according to International Business Times’ Aditya Tejas. The scientists found that as society becomes more unequal in myriad ways, life expectancy is diverging as well.

“In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking,” said Chang. “Education — which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities — should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”

Even though many causes of death, especially heart disease, are decreasing at a rapid rate, the burden of these causes fall on the poor. The team says that policies and interventions put in place to encourage educational attainment could significantly improve survival rates in the US population.

Study co-author Patrick Krueger, an assistant professor at CU Denver’s Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences, says public health programs have long focused on diet, smoking, drinking, and exercise, but could be missing the boat by not adding learning to the list, according to Electa Draper of The Denver Post.

Over 10% of US adults who are aged 25 to 34 do not have a high school diploma, and more than a quarter have some college but no degree, according to an article from New York University in News-Medical. Healthy People 2020, an organization to improve American’s health decade by decade, has set goals for increasing the number of students completing high school by 2020 to help close the gap.

“Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits,” Chang said. “In addition to education policy’s obvious relevance for improving learning and economic opportunities, its benefits to health should also be thought of as a key rationale. The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality.”