People with more years of education may have reduced heart disease as they have higher wages, allowing them to afford better food and health care, reveals a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal PLOS Medicine.// State policies requiring children to attend additional years of school may result in a reduced risk for heart disease and improvements in several cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, according to a study by researchers at UC San Francisco and Stanford University.
‘Each additional year of schooling decreases risk factors such as smoking and depression.’In the study, the researchers conducted a natural experiment by evaluating state compulsory schooling laws, which legislate the number of years children must attend school. From two large, national surveys conducted from 1971 to 2012, they identified more than 75,000 people born from 1900 to 1950, when states required children to attend school between 0 and 12 years. They then used U.S. Census data on a group of similar individuals to predict the number of years of required schooling for each individual, based on their year and state of birth.
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Overall, about a third of the study, participants did not graduate from high school. While 34.5 percent reported heart disease, the researchers found that each year of additional compulsory schooling through high school was associated with a 2.5 percent reduction in occurrence. They also noted improvements in several cardiovascular risk factors with each additional year, including reductions of more than 3 percent in smoking and nearly 5 percent in depression.
"For clinicians and health systems struggling to address disparities in heart disease between the rich and the poor, our findings suggest that cross-sectoral interventions to address social factors like education are important," said lead author Rita Hamad, MD, PhD, assistant professor of family and community medicine in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies.
"As a society, we should be thinking about investing in social policies to improve overall health and reduce health care costs."
The study, published online June 25, 2019, in PLOS Medicine, provides some of the first evidence of the effects of education policies on heart disease in the United States.
While more education also was associated with improved high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, the researchers found that more education also was associated with a higher body-mass index (BMI) and total cholesterol. A possible explanation is that high-income people born between 1900-1950 tended to eat richer diets, they said. By contrast, higher BMI today tends to be associated more with low income, due to the inability to afford healthy food.
The researchers are examining how these same policies affect health care costs and whether the policies reduce racial disparities in heart disease.