By Foluke Akinwalere. Freelance Health Writer. With medical review and editorial support by the DLHA Team
African man studying in a modern university library. Image from Freepik
1. Every additional year of education reduces the risk of death by two percent, through primary, secondary, and higher education levels.
2. The health benefits of education are comparable to major lifestyle factors and are consistent across different global societies.
3. The research derived 10,000 data points from 600 published sources across 59 countries and emphasised the need for enhanced educational access to reduce mortality and health inequalities globally.
In a world where longevity is often the subject of interest and aspiration, a new study sheds light on a compelling factor that contributes to a longer life: EDUCATION.
The correlation between education and lifespan has long been a topic of interest among researchers. Now, a comprehensive study offers fresh insights into this relationship, suggesting that the more educated you are, the greater your chances of living longer.
A recent study published in The Lancet Public Health journal aimed to estimate the reduction in all-cause adult mortality associated with each year of schooling at a global level and found that education has a significant effect on lowering death rates, especially among older adults.
Education saves lives regardless of age, sex, location, and social and demographic background.
— IHME-CHAIN Collaborators, The Lancet Public Health Journal, 2024
The findings indicate that a person’s risk of death dropped by an average of 2% with every additional year of education they attained.
This means people who complete six years of elementary school have an average 13% lower risk of death. A high school education reduces the risk by nearly 25% while getting a Master’s degree lowers the risk by 34%.
The researchers also found that the impact of education on health is comparable to other risk factors such as maintaining a healthy diet, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.
For example, in the estimation of the study authors, the benefits of 18 years of education can be compared to consuming the recommended amount of vegetables, while not pursuing any education is as harmful to health as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks daily or smoking ten cigarettes a day for 10 years. The protective effect of higher education on the death rate is significant across age, sex, period, birth cohort, and socio-demographic index level. It did not diminish at higher levels of education.
This is why researchers suggested that investing in education is crucial for increasing life expectancy and reducing global death rate imbalances.
Regarding this study, researchers identified data from 59 countries and included over 10,000 data points collected from over 600 published articles to compare the effects of education to other longevity-influencing factors such as eating healthy, exercising, and smoking or excessive alcohol drinking.
The majority of the research examined in this study was conducted in high-income settings, underscoring the need for more studies in low and middle-income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, where there is a lack of data.
Multiple impact pathways: The findings revealed that people with higher levels of education tend to enjoy longer and healthier lives compared to those with less education because education serves as a powerful determinant of health outcomes through multiple pathways.
Informed decision-making: Education equips individuals with crucial knowledge and skills, enabling them to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyles. Those with higher education levels are more likely to adopt healthier behaviours, such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and avoidance of harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Skills empowerment to navigate access to quality healthcare: Education empowers individuals to navigate complex healthcare systems more effectively, seeking timely medical attention and adhering to preventive measures. This gives them access to quality healthcare services such as better health insurance coverage and financial resources to afford medical care.
Impact on economic factors and social determinants of health: Along with behaviour and healthcare access, education impacts health and economic factors. Higher education leads to better jobs and incomes, while stable employment, housing, and social support also affect health and longevity.
“More education leads to better employment and higher income, better access to healthcare, and helps us take care of our own health”, says Mirza Balaj co-lead author and postdoctoral fellow at Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Impact on problem-solving: Furthermore, education fosters cognitive resilience and problem-solving abilities, which are vital for adapting to life’s challenges and coping with stressors effectively. This cognitive flexibility safeguards against the adverse health effects of stress and adversity, thereby promoting a long life.
Impact on social networking and mental health: Also, higher levels of education are associated with broader social networks and stronger social support systems. These connections provide emotional reinforcement, reduce stress, and foster a sense of belonging— all of which have been linked to improved physical and mental health outcomes.
The benefits of education are greatest for young people, but researchers also found a protective effect even among those older than 50 and even 70 years old.
They also found that more years of education is just as effective in rich countries as in poor ones.
“We need to increase social investments to enable access to better and more education around the globe to stop the persistent inequalities that are costing lives,” said Mirza Balaj.
While the study’s findings underscore the potent link between education and longevity, they also highlight the urgent need to address educational inequalities and promote equal access to quality education for all.
“Closing the education gap means closing the mortality gap, and we need to interrupt the cycle of poverty and preventable deaths with the help of international commitment,” says co-lead author Claire Henson, a researcher with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.
Also, socio-economic factors, including income inequality and systemic barriers to education, continue to perpetuate inequalities in health outcomes.
Efforts to enhance educational opportunities and promote lifelong learning can yield profound dividends not only for individuals but for society as a whole. By investing in education at all stages of life, policymakers can empower individuals to lead longer, healthier lives while fostering a more equitable and prosperous society.
In conclusion, the adage “knowledge is power” takes on new meaning in light of this groundbreaking study. Education emerges not only as a pathway to personal fulfillment and professional success but also as a potent determinant of human longevity. As we strive to build a healthier, more resilient community, let us recognise the transformative power of education in shaping the path of human lives in generations to come.
1. IHME-CHAIN Collaborators. Effects of education on adult mortality: a global systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health. January 23, 2024 https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(23)00306-7
2. Center on Society and Health. Why Education Matters to Health: Exploring the Causes [Internet. February 13, 2015]. Accessed January 29, 2024]. Available from: https://societyhealth.vcu.edu/work/the-projects/why-education-matters-to-health-exploring-the-causes.html#gsc.tab=0
Published: January 30, 2024
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