Education is a fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities. It should also be a key element of US health policy as researchers have found that a lag in education can be as deadly as smoking.
Researchers at the University of Colorado said leaving school without decent General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or A levels left people at risk from a lifetime of poor diet, long manual working hours and worsening mental health.
AdvertisementDr. Patrick Krueger, study co-author, Assistant professor in the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver 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."
The authors of the study calculated the health risks of low educational attainment in the U.S. and found that more than 145,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who did not finish high school had earned a GED or high school diploma — comparable to the mortality rates of smoking.
Krueger and colleagues examined data for those born in 1925, 1935 and 1945 to see how education levels impacted mortality over time.
Around 6,000 pupils a year fail to achieve any qualifications while 47,000 gain fewer than five GCSEs. They found that disparities in mortality across different education levels widened substantially over time.
For example, mortality rates fell modestly among those with high school degrees, the equivalent of British A-levels but much more rapidly among those with college degrees, our university degree.
"In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking," said study co-author Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health.