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Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smoking

By RoboCodeine7610, Jul 12, 2015 | Updated: Jul 13, 2015 | | |
  1. RoboCodeine7610
    A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill estimates the number of deaths that can be linked to differences in education, and finds that variation in the risk of death across education levels has widened considerably.

    The findings, published July 8 in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that lacking education may be as deadly as being a current rather than former smoker.

    "In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking," said Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health, and associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine. "Education -- which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities -- should also be a key element of U.S. health policy."

    Low levels of education are common. More than 10 percent of U.S. adults ages 25 to 34 do not have a high school degree, while more than a quarter have some college but no bachelor's degree. Yet studies show that a higher level of education is a strong predictor of longevity due to many factors, including higher income and social status, healthier behaviors, and improved social and psychological well being. Evidence from studies including natural experiments consistently show a strong association between education level and mortality and suggest that a substantial part of the association between education and mortality is causal.

    Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey, the study team looked at data on more than a million people from 1986 to 2006 to estimate the number of deaths that could be attributed to low levels of education. Estimates of attributable mortality indicate the number of lives that could be potentially saved if adults had a higher level of education. They studied people born in 1925, 1935, and 1945 to understand how education levels affected mortality over time, and noted the causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

    The researchers estimated the number of deaths in the 2010 U.S. population for two scenarios with relevance for policy: having less than a high school degree, and having some college but not a bachelor's degree. Maximizing high school graduations rates and the completion of college among those who have already entered are viable policy targets.

    They found that 145,243 deaths could be saved in the 2010 population if adults who had not completed high school went on to earn a GED or high school degree, which is comparable to the estimated number of deaths that could be averted if all current smokers had the mortality rates of former smokers. In addition, 110,068 deaths could be saved if adults who had some college went on to complete their bachelor's degree.

    The disparities in mortality across different levels of education widened substantially over time. For example, mortality rates fell modestly among those with high school degrees, but mortality rates fell much more rapidly among those with college degrees. As a result, encouraging high school completion among adults who have not finished high school could save twice as many lives among those born in 1945 as compared to those born in 1925.

    Deaths from cardiovascular disease played a greater role than deaths from cancer in these growing gaps in mortality and improvements in survival for well-educated people, likely due to advances in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease among those with more education.

    "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," said Patrick Krueger, assistant professor in the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus and the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. "Unless these trends change, the mortality attributable to low education will continue to increase in the future."

    Healthy People 2020 -- an initiative to improve Americans' health decade by decade -- set goals for increasing the proportion of students completing high school by 2020. The researchers said that based on their findings, meeting these goals could have a substantial impact on future survival patterns.

    "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."

    New York University.
    ScienceDaily, 8 July 2015.


  1. DrAxar
    Re: Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smok

    It's one of those statistical analysis looking for patterns in population and not cause.
    Arguably it may relate to income levels and parents income leading to better access to healthcare, etc but studying and health would be more related to the application of the "scientific method" to life.
    Education teaches you to be observant and critical, teaches you how to make valid decisions using a hypothesis and applying a valid method so this "educated" thinking may help the individuals make more informed choices in life and in relation to health. I don't think purely learning masses of data in itself will ward of disease and early death.
  2. RoboCodeine7610
    Re: Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smok

    Okay, I know reputation ratings shouldn't be discussed, but I see no other way to figure this out: To whomever has given me rep like four times saying not to leave "gaping holes" in my articles, I have no clue what you're talking about. I see absolutely no holes here anywhere...

    Please do leave a post explaining just what the hell you mean.

  3. perro-salchicha614
    Re: Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smok

    In the US at least, educational attainment and economic/social status are linked pretty closely. Low levels of education are a pretty good predictor of economic disadvantage, which has all sorts of negative health outcomes associated with it. There is the issue of lack of access to good preventive health care, and there is also the fact that the culture of poverty in this country discourages 'healthy' behaviors.

    Poor people tend to live in areas where there is no access to quality education early in life, and this virtually dooms them to poor educational attainment as adults. As a result, they never have the resources to address health issues before they become serious, and mortality rates are higher than they are for the middle and upper classes, who are far more likely to have finished college.

    A lot of people in the US are locked into this cycle of poor education and poor health care, and that's what's reflected in this article. If someone wants to address the root cause of this phenomenon in the US, he/she needs to first deal with the patently unfair way that public education is funded in our country.
  4. RoboCodeine7610
    Re: Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smok

    Yes, I agree perro-salchicha. I think the best documentary I ever saw on the subject was called "waiting for superman". A must-watch for anyone who'd like to understand how education works in America.

  5. TheBigBadWolf
    Re: Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smok

    A schoolmate of mine is an English Teacher in US and when I last saw him he told me that US are an educationally less developped country.
    From Europe it looks like a racist fragmentation of youth where espescially Hispanic and American Africans are the disadvantaged and the 'Caucasian' and in parts the EasternAsian subdivisions of population generally seem priviledged.

    Although this may not be the case in more rural areas where there is a vast majority in numbers of the white population and people partly tend to self-educate their kids. (Another thing unbelieveable for a European).

    There's times when I feel in the wrong place having to brood over an american members ideas of *simple* things like punctuation and orthography - sometimes I thought, hell write txttalk then I'd at least get what you wanna say. (all this being a foreigner, myself)

    And this is communication here.

    Now give to the same person a text that contains legal 'Speak' or something like a user information of a pain medication.

    Those who arent factually illiterate have a bigger chance to survive...

    I think young people do have a right to get the best education that fits in their heads. Industrial times are gone and won't come back, we don't need 'working'people who only do their work and can't express themselves.

  6. perro-salchicha614
    Re: Deaths attributed to low levels of education: Lack of education as deadly as smok

    This sort of educational disadvantage does indeed tend to follow racial divisions in the US, but that's because of the history of housing segregation in our country. There are exceptions: for example, I'm white and I spent most of my childhood in a poor urban school district where there was a very large minority/immigrant population. I can certainly attest to the fact that minority-dominated urban school districts are underfunded and do a very poor job of preparing students for college.

    And don't even get me started on home-schooling. I know a lot of public school teachers, and trust me, they are well-educated professionals who have spent years studying pedagogy (not to mention their specific content areas) in order to be able to teach effectively. A lot of people don't understand that most teachers (at least where I live) have graduate degrees, nor do they ever consider that teachers make comparatively little for the level of graduate education that they have. Home-schoolers are (in most cases) doing a disservice to their kids because the average person doesn't have the training to be able to educate a child effectively. Often, these people home-school their kids because of religious reasons. Don't get me started on that, either.

    I can't stand poor spelling/punctuation/grammar and text-speak. It makes me want to pull my hair out if I read it for too long. Why don't people take more pride in how they express themselves? I understand that many people don't have a great education, but I think a lot of it is due to sheer laziness. I put a lot of effort into making sure I express myself articulately, and I like others to do the same, which somehow makes me an elitist in people's minds.

    *end of rant*
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