A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found earning a high school diploma is as good for health as quitting smoking.
While the connection between education levels and health has been well-documented, this study shows it is growing among recent generations. Put simply, the higher the education, the greater the income. With that income, there is greater likelihood of accessing quality healthcare, more time to address health-related needs, and greater knowledge and ability to monitor one’s health.
The study found if every adult high school dropout in the 2010 population had a GED or a regular diploma, 145,243 deaths could be averted. Similarly, 110,068 deaths could be avoided for that year if every adult who already had some college finished their bachelor’s degrees. And if everyone in the population got a bachelor’s degree, the total untimely deaths would be reduced by 554,525.
“In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking and drinking,” co-author Virginia Chang said. “Education – which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities – should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”
The conclusion: policies that encourage more education could significantly reduce adult mortality:
“The magnitude of our estimates confirms the importance of considering education policy as a key element of US health policy, and a major concern for current and future physicians. Medical and policy research will benefit from renewed attention to the population-level impact of educational disparities in mortality and the potential for even greater survival inequality in the future.”