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Every year of education reduces mortality risk

Researchers have unveiled a striking correlation between education levels and mortality rates. The extensive study, which is the largest of its kind, reveals that each additional year of education can reduce the risk of dying by two percent, regardless of age, sex, location, or background.

A direct correlation 

The findings represent a significant leap in understanding the link between education and longevity. Previous theories proposed that higher education levels might lead to longer life spans, but the extent of this effect was unclear. 

The current research clarifies this by illustrating a direct correlation: a completion of six years of primary school decreases death risk by about 13 percent, secondary education cuts it by nearly 25 percent, and 18 years of education slashes mortality risk by 34 percent.

The correlation between education and reduced mortality can be compared to other well-known health factors. 

The study notes that the benefits of 18 years of education is comparable to the health impact of consuming an ideal amount of vegetables versus none at all. Conversely, the lack of education bears the same health risks as heavy alcohol consumption or smoking.

“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 Dr. Terje Andreas Eikemo, head of Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Universal benefits

The study also highlights that the benefits of education are not confined to the young. Older individuals, including those over 70, also benefit from the protective effects of education. This finding challenges the common assumption that the impact of education diminishes with age.

One of the most pivotal aspects of this research is its global applicability. The effects of education on health are consistent across countries at various stages of development. 

Addressing inequalities 

“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 study co-lead author Mirza Balaj. 

“More education leads to better employment and higher income, better access to healthcare, and helps us take care of our own 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.”

International commitment is needed 

“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 co-lead author Claire Henson. 

“In order 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.”

Future research directions

The study included data from 59 countries with over 10,000 data points derived from more than 600 published articles. However, most of the studies reviewed were from high-income settings, highlighting a gap in research from low- and middle-income countries, especially from regions like sub-Saharan and north Africa.

“Our focus now should be on regions of the world where we know access to schooling is low, and where there is also limited research on education as a determinant of health,” said study co-author Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou.

The study is published in the journal The Lancet Public Health

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