Education: It Matters More to Health than Ever Before

  • March 4, 2014
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The impact of education on health

Our work at HSC is grounded in the core belief that health and education are inextricably linked. While we frequently have the opportunity to highlight the important impact of students’ health on their ability to learn, we spend less time discussing the impact of education on health.

That is why we were pleased to see a new report by the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focusing on the important role education plays in determining an individual’s health.

According to the report, Americans without a high school diploma are living shorter lives with more illness than ever before. While overall life expectancy has increased throughout the industrialized world, Americans without a high school education are being left behind. The report's striking finding is that life expectancy is now decreasing for whites with fewer than 12 years of education — especially white women. Among whites with less than 12 years of education, life expectancy at age 25 fell from 47.0 to 43.6 years for males and from 54.5 to 49.2 years for females. White women without a high school diploma are living shorter lives than they did in 1990.

As the report explains, the lack of an education in America means a much higher rate of diseases from diabetes to arthritis, higher rates of disability, and greater psychological distress.

So why is this the case? A good education is critical for securing a good job and higher earnings. As the report states, “the health benefits that accrue from a good education often occur 'downstream' after leaving school, such as better health insurance, access to medical care, and the resources to live a healthier lifestyles and to reside in homes and neighborhoods.”

For a great summary of this information, check out this animated video released by the Center on Society and Health, which helps illustrate these connections and explain the impact of decreased education on society.

This report makes it clear that an investment in education is also an investment in health. Policies that strengthen schools can also have a significant impact on the health of the nation and decrease healthcare costs in the long run.

For more information about Virginia Commonwealth University’s Education and Health Initiative and to download the report, click here. In the coming months, the Center on Society and Health will be releasing three follow-up reports demonstrating why an investment in education is an investment in health. We look forward to sharing this information with you and commend the Center on Society and Health for its work on this issue.

HSC has been working to identify strategies for supporting the health and education of students across the country through Health in Mind and the Working Group on Education and Health. Through this work we have also highlighted the important impact education has on health. You can read more about these efforts on our blog and at www.healthinmind.org.