Education and health: 7 ways learning leads to healthy living


We’ve all seen the statistics touting the increase in job opportunities and salary potential when a person upgrades from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree. But continuing education also leads to some benefits you might consider a bit more surprising—things like lower crime rates, increased community involvement and improved personal health.

In fact, a number of studies have been conducted to dig into the impact educational attainment has on personal health. It may seem simple on its surface—higher levels of education are typically paired with increased salaries. This probably leads to a higher quality of life, right?

While that’s generally true, it turns out the relationship between education and health is a bit more complex. We uncovered the facts of just how far-reaching education’s impact on personal health is. Take a look at what we found.

7 health benefits associated with highly educated people

It’s worth noting these health benefits are general observations. Genetic and environmental factors also come into play. That said, education and health do appear to go hand in hand.

1. They’re likely to live longer

Many studies have concluded that higher levels of educational attainment correlate with decreased mortality rates—a fact that remains true across all age, gender and racial subgroups. In particular, deaths related to social and behavioral risk factors possess an undeniable link to education level.

An examination of the mortality rates of U.S. adults ages 45 through 64 illustrates this perfectly. Those with at least 17 years of education have a mortality rate that is 93 percent lower than those with 11 years of education or fewer. It should be noted that these rates are in reference to preventable causes of death, such as lung cancer, respiratory diseases, homicide and accidents.

Overall, as the levels of educational attainment in the U.S. have risen, so too have the educational differences in mortality rate.

2. They probably won’t experience as much economic or occupational stress

According to a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)—part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services—adults who have obtained higher levels of education have less exposure to stressors related to economic hardship. This also makes them less likely to adopt unhealthy coping behaviors.

Long-term stress can negatively impact both physical and psychological health. High levels of stress work in tandem with other risky health behaviors to increase mortality and disease rates, particularly among individuals of low socioeconomic status.

3. They’re less likely to smoke

An increased likelihood of being a smoker is one of the risky behaviors associated with lower levels of educational attainment. In fact, the AHRQ report reveals 35 percent of adults who did not graduate from high school are smokers. That rate drops to 30 percent for high school graduates and just 13 percent for college graduates.

The negative impacts smoking has on physical health have been studied in great depth. Consider the following statistics reported by the CDC:

  • Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths annually in the U.S.—nearly one in five deaths.
  • Smoking causes more fatalities each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents combined.
  • More than 10 times as many American citizens have died prematurely from smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the U.S.

4. They’re less likely to experience common illnesses

High school graduates are about four percent less likely to face unemployment than those without a diploma, while college graduates are eight percent less likely. And unemployment has been linked to adverse health outcomes.

When tasked with reporting on their general health, 62.7 percent of employed adults reported that they were in excellent or very good health. Just 49.2 percent of adults who were unemployed for less than a year reported the same—a figure that dropped to 39.7 percent for those unemployed for more than one year.

Many studies have concluded that higher levels of education are associated with a decreased prevalence of illnesses like heart conditions, hypertension, high cholesterol, emphysema, diabetes, asthma and ulcers. In fact, an additional four years of education has been associated with a 2.16 percent reduced risk of heart disease. The risk of diabetes may also decrease by 1.3 percent. An additional four years of schooling reduces the number of sick days taken from work by about 2.3 each year.

5. They have fewer reported cases of mental health struggles

Findings have suggested that lower levels of educational attainment correlate with an increased prevalence of common mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, less education, a recent income decrease and poor housing remain the only socioeconomic status variables that are significantly associated with mental health disorders.

This correlation isn’t limited to a high school or college education, either. There also seem to be associations between childhood educational attainment and adult mental health status. According to one thirty-year longitudinal follow-up study, low childhood test scores accurately predict poor outcomes as an adult—both in terms of mental health and in general status achievement.

6. They tend to eat better and maintain regular exercise habits

Even things like exercising regularly and maintaining a well-balanced diet appear to be related to higher levels of education. This might seem obvious at first: people who earn higher incomes due to higher education have access to more resources related to healthy living. Such resources include the ability to purchase healthy foods and the ability to afford the time and expense regular exercise requires.

But education levels—as opposed to income levels—seem to impact food preferences in American homes. For example, households with higher education levels tend to purchase food products that are approximately 40 percent closer to the USDA recommendations than households with lower levels of education. It’s also true that intake of nutrients like vitamins A and C, potassium and calcium—as well as overall diet quality—are associated with education.

When it comes to exercise, the AHRQ report concludes that 61 percent of adults with less than a high school education and 68 percent of high school graduates said they had exercised within the last 30 days of being surveyed. That percentage jumps to 85 among college graduates.

7. They’re more likely to have health insurance

While education certainly exposes people to a wealth of information that might prompt them to make healthier choices, access to healthcare services is one element of the equation that simply can’t be ignored. Those with higher levels of education are not only less likely to face unemployment, but they’re also more likely to obtain employment that offers health coverage. Individuals with higher incomes are more likely to have health insurance

It’s a simple fact that adults with health insurance use more physician services and experience more positive health outcomes than uninsured (or inconsistently insured) adults. Based on education level specifically, 27 percent of adults with less than a high school diploma reported not being able to see a physician due to cost, compared to 18 percent of high school graduates and just eight percent of college graduates. Financial barriers make uninsured individuals less likely to seek preventive care or assistance with disease management.

Ready to reap the rewards of advanced education?

The relationship between education and health is evident. Educational attainment predisposes a person to experience more positive health outcomes both in their ability to navigate their own healthcare and to make positive decisions related to personal health behaviors.

If you’ve decided that advancing your education is the best move for your personal health, the next step is to determine what you’d like to study. The good news is there are numerous resources available to help you make the right decision.

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