Attending College Can Help You Live Longer

Posted By Eliana Osborn on August 31, 2015 at 9:41 am
Attending College Can Help You Live Longer

Quitting smoking, exercising, and going to college all have something in common – they can all help you live longer.  Research just published in the journal PLOS ONE finds that death rates in the United States vary depending on your level of education.

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, and one of the authors of the study, told NYU that education should be part of U.S. public health policy: “In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking. Education – which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities – should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Census and other sources, researchers estimated how many deaths could have been prevented with greater levels of education.  They also looked at long term mortality for those born before 1945, in terms of cancer or other disease.

The findings? 145,243 deaths in the 2010 population could have been prevented if adults who did not complete high school had gone on to earn a GED or high school diploma. To put that in context, that’s comparable to the number of deaths that could have been prevented if all current smokers from the same year had the mortality rates of former smokers. Additionally, 110,068 deaths could have been prevented if adults who had some college education had gone on to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Researchers predict that the mortality gaps between education levels will continue to grow over time – and the biggest gap comes between those who have completed high school and those who haven’t. The best way to effect change, then, would be to emphasize simply completing high school—that’s where longevity could be most dramatically changed.

Because of research like this, one part of the Healthy People 2020 initiative (a federal program to promote health and wellness) is to increase the number of students who graduate from high school.  Education isn’t only important for economic reasons – it’s important for health reasons, as well.  However, many policy experts are unaware of the implications of education on physical health, as little study has been done in that area.

According to the study’s authors, “policies that increase education could significantly reduce adult mortality.”  The implication? Addressing disparities in American education could be even wider-reaching than we once thought.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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