More education could mean less heart disease

More schooling is linked to lower levels of heart disease.
More schooling is linked to lower levels of heart disease.

New research offers a compelling case for staying in school: American adults who spent more time in the classroom as kids have a lower risk of heart disease.

"As a society, we should be thinking about investing in social policies to improve overall health and reduce health care costs," said study author Dr Rita Hamad. She's an assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Only an association

Hamad and her team analysed data gathered between 1971 and 2012 from more than 75 000 people born during the first half of the 20th century. During that time, states required children to attend school for as many as 12 years.

About one-third of participants did not graduate from high school and 34.5% reported heart disease.

But each year of compulsory schooling through high school was associated with a 2.5% reduction in heart disease and in risk factors for heart disease – including a more than 3% reduction in smoking and a nearly 5% lower risk of depression. Only an association, rather than a cause-and-effect link, was seen by researchers.

"For clinicians and health systems struggling to address disparities in heart disease between the rich and the poor, our findings suggest that cross-sectoral interventions to address social factors like education are important," Hamad said in a university news release.

The study offers some of the first evidence of the effects of education policies on heart disease in the United States, according to the researchers.

Better food and health care

While more education was associated with improved "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, it was also linked to higher total cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). BMI is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height.

One possible explanation is that high-income people born between 1900 and 1950 tended to eat richer diets. Higher BMI today is more closely associated with lower incomes, according to the researchers.

"Overall, people with more education may have reduced heart disease because they have higher incomes, allowing them to afford better food and health care," Hamad said. "Or, it may be that they have more resources and therefore less stress, which has been previously linked with heart disease."

The researchers are now examining how policies on school attendance affect health care costs and whether the policies reduce racial disparities in heart disease.

The study was published online in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Authorities should bring in the army already
11% - 2264 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
48% - 9913 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
37% - 7563 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
4% - 751 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.