Teachers, students and parents alike understand the value of receiving a quality educational opportunities. Now experts are finding a correlation between this basic human right and the betterment of our bodies. This month we're celebrating health and wellness in our community by highlighting five ways education benefits our welfare.
Healthy Living Starts Early
All parents want to provide the best educational opportunities to their children, but many may not know just how valuable can be for their long-term health. Thanks to the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, there is now proof that early childhood education can give kids that grow up in poverty, longer and healthier lives.
Launched in 1972, the study's original purpose was to examine if it was possible to enhance IQ and school readiness among poor children at risk of falling behind as they moved into grade school. Although the research yielded high expenses for the sponsoring organization, the results were astounding.
The methodology involved recruiting over 100 families with 2-month old infants. The demographic involved those mostly born to low-income mothers who did not have high school diplomas and had no place to send their children during the day when they went to work. All of the babies received nutritional supplements, basic social services and access to health care, while half of the population was selected to attend a day care program. Each infant in the variable set was given a caregiver’s undivided attention 6 to 8 hours per day, 5 days a week.
A physician was elected to examine all of the participants in the North Carolina study, taking blood pressure and other measurements when they were in their late 30's. This person was unaware that some had attended the day care program, while others did not. The reported results were as follows:
Striking health differences emerged from the data, the team reports online today in Science. Most dramatic, in Heckman’s view, were differences in systolic and diastolic blood pressure among 12 men who had received the intense care and the 20 men who hadn’t. On average, the control group had stage 1 hypertension, which significantly increases risk of heart attack and stroke. In contrast, the average blood pressure for men who had been in the day care program as children was in the normal range.
In addition to high blood pressure, roughly a quarter of men in the control group also had “metabolic syndrome,” a constellation of symptoms including excess abdominal fat and high blood sugar, says health economist Gabriella Conti of University College London, who also contributed to the study. In contrast, “no one” in the treatment group had metabolic syndrome, she says.
Read the full article and additional research details published by Science Mag: Intensive Day Care May Improve Long-Term Health of Poor Children.
Parent and Community Connections
Children are influenced by many different voices in many different situations, but the most powerful sources of learning are generally on the home front and the school yard. Just as parents with poor health habits pass them on to their kin, parents who exercise and promote sound nutrition tactics transfer them to their children. More education helps equip people to better understand not only the facts and nuances of healthy living but also why its important. Many school districts help assist parents through this process by giving them guidelines to incorporate teachings into their school and home behaviors.
In many cases, superintendents also mandate administrative regulations to implement health policies. One example comes from the Vail School District in Arizona, where educators are promoting a Wellness Policy for all community members. The document states that the district "recognizes that sound nutrition and optimal physical fitness is directly related to learning readiness, academic achievement, decreased discipline problems and improved physical and emotional well-being." Goals and details of this policy include:
- Nutrition Guidelines
- Nutrition Education
- Physical Activity
- Program Evaluations
- Parent, Community and Staff Involvement
This is just one example of how school systems are recognizing and adapting to the correlation between education and health, a trend that is spreading throughout the country. The standards are based on state and local legislature content and updates are formally reported through board activities. We encourage all parents to seek local information on how their children are living out healthy standards of living and promote them rigorously throughout domestic activities.
Education Extends Life Expectancy
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has gained the valuable reputation of publishing some of the most advanced and comprehensive case studies in the world. The organization published one study in particular that illustrates that education is related to life longevity. Some of the major findings of the NBER study include the following:
The differences between the more and the less educated are significant: in 1999, the age-adjusted mortality rate of high school dropouts ages 25 to 64 was more than twice as large as the mortality rate of those with some college.
The magnitude of the relationship between education and health varies across conditions, but is generally large. An additional four years of education lowers five-year mortality by 1.8 percentage points; it also reduces the risk of heart disease by 2.16 percentage points, and the risk of diabetes by 1.3 percentage points.
In terms of the relation between education and various health risk factors - smoking, drinking, diet/exercise, use of illegal drugs, household safety, use of preventive medical care, and care for hypertension and diabetes - overall the results suggest very strong gradients where the better educated have healthier behaviors along virtually every margin, although some of these behaviors may also reflect differential access to care. Those with more years of schooling are less likely to smoke, to drink heavily, to be overweight or obese, or to use illegal drugs. Interestingly, the better educated report having tried illegal drugs more frequently, but they gave them up more readily.
Authors David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney present amazing proof of the connection between education and healthy living. Find out more by reading the full NBER report.
Lifelong Learning and Economic Health
The same study also placed monetary values to the benefits of pursuing higher levels of education. Many estimates suggest that a year of education raises financial earnings by about 10 percent, or $80,000 in present value over the course of a lifetime.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, the authors report that one year of education can increase life expectancy by 0.18 years, using a 3 percent discount rate, or by 0.6 years without any discounting. Assuming that a year of health is conservatively worth $75,000, this would equal approximately $13,500 to $44,000 in present value. Using these rough calculations we find that health returns to education increase the total returns to education by between 15 and 55 percent. This is significant considering the ever-changing standards of living across the country.
The economic impact of education also shows that healthier people miss less time at work and ultimately produce more efficiently, leading to lower health insurance costs overall. Researchers associated with an even more recent NBER paper published just last month digs deeper into facts that support these findings. The report states that the "empirical results show that there is strong sorting into schooling levels on both cognitive and socio-emotional endowments. Overall, we found that wages and the health and healthy behaviors of persons is enhanced by high school graduation, college enrollment and graduation from a 4-year college." This natural progression clearly correlates the economic, mental and physical health benefits gained by all lifelong learners.
Education and Our Environmental Health
There are many different goals for individuals seeking higher education, but one constant remains true throughout the perspectives - the intent is to better our lives. Nearly every humanities class teaches the simple concept of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which outlines how every human first seeks physiological basics, then moves upward toward safety, belonging, esteem and ultimately self-actualization.
Education plays a part in the cycle of success at all levels, but as our society is becoming more environmentally conscious many overlook the importance of learning to maintaining healthy lifestyles. Consider a student who is pursuing a degree in business and is motivated to make the world a better place. Many universities are developing business programs that allow graduates to do exactly that. Brandman University is one of them, offering a graduate certificate in business sustainability that explores concepts such as green accounting, corporate responsibility and strategies for innovation.
This systems thinking approach does not only benefit the student's success, but also provides healthier living standards for the society as a whole. The innovative ideas and processes that our future leaders will create have the capacity to find a cure for cancer, provide solutions for cleaner emissions or find sustainable options for the world's water sources. All of these positive changes can snowball for the better and improve the essential human health needs that all people have. Although for some these are big idea dreams, for others they are attainable goals that education can help them reach.