Could a college degree help save your life?

People with more education have healthier habits

A lack of education could be as harmful to health as smoking, according to a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, Robert Gebelhoff reports for the Washington Post.

According to Gebelhoff, numerous studies have established a link between low education levels and risky behaviors, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to health care and poor housing and working conditions, all of which can affect an individual's immune system and heart health.

In the new study, researchers analyzed the health risks of low educational attainment in the U.S. They found more than 145,000 adult deaths in 2010 could have been prevented if adults who had not finished high school earned a high school diploma or a general educational development certificate, which is comparable to the mortality rates for smoking.

An additional 110,000 deaths could have been prevented if people who finished some college completed their degrees, the researchers suggest.

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The death counts estimate the impact of education on mortality and do not point to direct causality, says Gebelhoff. Factors such as childhood health and genetic predisposition to illness were not accounted for in the study.

Patrick Krueger, an author of the study and a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver, said a stronger focus on attaining high school degrees should be the most important takeaway from the study. He said, "It's pretty reasonable for everyone to get a high school degree" (Gebelhoff, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/8).

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