Education Leads to Better Health

Education plays a huge role in impacting health outcomes. This essay aims to outline how education is interrelated to health outcomes in terms of obesity, life expectancy, infant mortality and mental health. It will discuss how the better educated in a society come out on top in terms of health. It will not only compare its findings between countries but also within. It will conclude that these subjects are massively linked to health outcomes and that once educated the over health of people will improve.

Although education isn’t the only factor leading to higher levels of life expectancy it is an important one. Life expectancy around the world is growing but its growth has been uneven across education groups. The pattern of higher education leads to a longer life on average compared to those less educated in almost every country. However, this difference does not just apply when comparing different countries by level of education it also applies when looking at the gradient in education within a country. For example, “in 2011, U.S. mortality rates reached record lows for both women and men; as a result, life expectancy at birth reached record highs: 81 years for women and 76 years for men.

As recently as 1960, women’s life expectancy at birth was only 73.1 years and men’s only 66.6 years” as reported by Hummer, R.A and Hernandez E.M. 2013. When comparing different countries Russia and Sweden are key example’s. Research on Russia indicates that in members of academic groups, that life expectancy levels are significantly higher than non-members and in Sweden around half of the overall increase of life expectancy in men in their 30’s can be traced back to the education attainment levels from 1988-1999.

 

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In Europe as a whole when comparing different countries, it is important to note that with lower education attainment comes higher mortality rates in adults as stated in a report by Crespo, Mira, Bohacek published in 2015. As also found in this report the largest inequalities in mortality is found in primarily the Eastern European counties for example education premium in Estonia is up to 8.4 years for males. Whereas when looking at the differences in Northern European countries the gap is not as big when it comes to education-based life expectancy differentials. From the finding’s it is clear to see that there is a bigger discrepancy within countries when it comes to education attainment causing changes in life expectancy.

Obesity, like life expectancy as a health outcome differs between the least and most educated both between and within countries. Staggering figures show in just a few years in certain developed countries obesity rates have doubled. The variance between countries is vast, in the U.S. just over 30 percent of adults are classified as obese compared to Japan where it is only 2.4 percent of adults.  (Graham, Shelia, Obesity: wider income gaps, wider waists). From the graphs below it is clear there is a greater variance in relation to obesity levels between countries as opposed to within. For instance, within the U.S. there are no states that have levels of obesity lower than 20 percent with Colorado being the lowest at 21.5 percent and Texas being the highest with 34 per cent.

The difference is even more drastic when comparing the U.S. with the Netherlands. In the Netherland only 7.6 per cent of children are overweight, which is a mere one third of the rate in the US where 25.1 per cent are overweight (Graham, Shelia ,Obesity: widerincomegaps, widerwaists,).  A real life example of how levels of education can contribute to obesity is seen in ‘Deadly Diet’ a series ran by the Wall Street Journal where they interviewed a woman in America, in inner city African American communities having a more voluptuous shape is seen as having a better standard of living. This is in stark contrast with countries in Europe where ‘’a study of people born in 1946 found that upward mobile men and women were less likely to be obese than those whose social class didn’t change between childhood and adulthood.’’ (Graham, Shelia, Obesity: wider income gaps, wider waists,). It can be concluded from this study that those whom are more educated tended to not be obese in comparison with those who are less educated.

 

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Thirdly, infant mortality as a health outcome is strongly linked to education. There are massive differences between the least educated countries and the best educated countries as well as differences within a countries population. IMF is a health indicator and is widely accepted by many governments as well as top health organisations. Infant mortality is the number of deaths of infants under one years old per 1,000 live births. The rate of IMF is low in developed countries and very high in developing countries due to education.

Ireland’s education system is one of the best in Europe. In 1966 Ireland’s infant mortality rate was at 23.86 deaths per thousand deaths and by 2015 the figure was 2.69 deaths per thousand deaths (knoema- world data atlas). Education contributed massively to this as it has improved drastically over the years its helped solve many problems and causes of infant mortality deaths. In many European countries the infant mortality rates are low and have dropped significantly over the years due to education. From 1970 the average of IMF was at 25 deaths per thousand and dropped to the current average of 4.2 deaths per thousand (OECD library).

Countries such as Benin with a literacy rate of 42.4% has an infant mortality rate of 54.2% to 1000 live births. That’s every 2 births equal a death (index mundi), education here is a major factor in why the infant mortality rate is so high with 42 percent of the population being illiterate the people there have a disadvantage in not in being able solve the problems of infant deaths. Countries that have a better education system also have a low figure of infant mortality. They have the resources and the ability to solve these problems of infant mortality due to the fact of highly skilled and educated people.

Modern society has accredited mental health with far more significance than in previous generations, thus studies into causes and contributing factors have become more frequent. It is through a high level of education that an individual is exposed to situations that bread psychological growth, development of coping mechanisms and instill a sense of person control. If one is not exposed to this type of development it can often cause mental health issues in conjunction with other contributing factors. The suicide rates in Ireland have increased dramatically in recent years, 541 deaths were reported in 2012 (Mental Health Ireland), to put this into context, there were 161 road deaths that year. The level of suicides has grown significantly in modern times due to many contributing factors, many of which stem from a lack of education.

Lack of education can result in financial instability and unemployment which can cause a strain. There is a strong correlation between poor mental health and education which can be seen clearly when looking at the effect of education on one’s socioeconomic status e.g. unemployment and debt causing strain.

A study carried out in Norway states that poor mental health and low education have a strong correlation. (BMC Psychiatry). One conclusion drawn was that poor mental health could result in a child being less capable to complete higher education if their mental health is compromised. However, a lack of education seems to mentally distress men at a younger age when initially entering the labour market coupled with the establishment of a family (BMC Psychiatry). This research coincides with studies of the Irish population thus it is evident that there are not huge variations in the mental health issues internationally. Although some countries have larger numbers there are overall general common trends. An individual’s level of education directly affects their mental health.

In conclusion, obesity, life expectancy, infant mortality and mental health education directly impacts an individual’s health. In all cases addressed above, a lack of education in conjunction with other contributing factors results negatively.


Laura Mulhall, Thomas Cantwell, Eimear Scully, Klara O’Leary

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