Data from over one million people born over 20 years finds a clear link between education and lifespan and shows that lack of education is as deadly as smoking.
The research suggests that higher level of education can potentially save lives over time. To understand how, researchers studied people born in 1925, 1935, and 1945. They found a strong link between poor education and causes of death such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The survival rate was much higher for well-educated people as they were more likely to find ways to prevent and treat diseases. Higher education is also a strong predictor of living longer and being healthier because of factors including higher income, improved social and psychological well-being and social status.
Dr Virginia Chang, associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine, said:
“In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking.
Education — which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities — should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”
The research suggests that 145,243 deaths in the US could be saved if adults without a high school degree went on to complete that level of education.
And 110,068 deaths could be saved in the US if adults with some college education completed their bachelor’s degree.
Dr Patrick Krueger the first author of this study said:
“Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the U.S. population, especially given widening educational disparities.
Unless these trends change, the mortality attributable to low education will continue to increase in the future.”
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE (Krueger et al., 2015).