New Delhi: Every year spent in school or university may improve life expectancy, while not attending an educational institute could be as bad as smoking or heavy drinking, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal. The research identified data from 59 countries and included over 10,000 data points collected from more than 600 published articles.
The team, including researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), found that education saves lives regardless of age, sex, location, and social and demographic backgrounds. They found that the risk of death drops by 2 percent with every additional year of education. That means those who completed six years of primary school had a lower risk of death by an average of 13 percent. After graduating from secondary school, the risk of dying was cut by nearly 25 percent, and 18 years of education lowered the risk by 34 percent. according to the study.
Researchers also compared the effects of education to other risk factors such as eating a healthy diet, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol, and they found the health outcomes to be similar. For example, the benefit of 18 years of education can be compared to that of eating the ideal amount of vegetables, as opposed to not eating vegetables at all, they said. Not going to school at all is as bad as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks per day or smoking ten cigarettes a day for 10 years, the researchers said.
"Education is important in its own right, not just for its benefits on health, but now being able to quantify the magnitude of this benefit is a significant development," said study co-author Terje Andreas Eikemo from NTNU. While the benefits of education are greatest for young people, those older than 50 and even 70 years still benefit from the protective effects of education, the researchers said. They found no significant difference in the effects of education between countries that have reached different stages of development. This means that more years of education is just as effective in rich countries as in poor countries.
"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, co-lead author and postdoctoral fellow at NTNU. "More education leads to better employment and higher income, better access to health care, and helps us take care of our health. Highly educated people also tend to develop a larger set of social and psychological resources that contribute to their health and the length of their lives," Balaj said. Most of the studies reviewed for the study were from high-income settings, highlighting the need for more research in low- and middle-income countries, particularly from sub-Saharan and North Africa where data are scarce.
"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," said Claire Henson, co-lead author and researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington's School of Medicine, US. "To reduce inequalities in mortality, it's important to invest in areas that promote people's opportunities to get an education. This can have a positive effect on population health in all countries," Henson added.