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Education Is Key to Health: Report

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- The better educated you are and the more money you make, the healthier you're likely to be, a U.S. government report released Wednesday shows.

The report found that more educated people with higher incomes suffer from fewer chronic diseases and live longer than the less educated poor.

"Not having education and being poor is detrimental to your health," said report co-author Amy Bernstein, a project director in the division of analysis and epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

That's partly because people with fewer advantages often have health habits that include worse diet, less exercise and smoking, she explained.

In addition, they are likely to be uninsured or have limited access to health care -- disparities that haven't changed much in the decade covered by the report, Bernstein said.

"It's frustrating to the public health community that this is not changing. We want to eliminate health disparities," Bernstein said.

For example, 44 percent of people below the poverty level have a disability, compared with 24 percent of those 400 percent above the poverty line, she said.

"These are really large differences. Being below the poverty line is really bad for your health," Bernstein said.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Twenty-four percent of boys and 22 percent of girls were obese in homes where parents didn't graduate from high school.
  • Eleven percent of boys and 7 percent of girls were obese in homes where parents had a college degree.
  • As many as 43 percent of women aged 25 and older without a college degree are obese. Obesity among men did not change with education.
  • Thirty-one percent of adults with a high school diploma or less are smokers, compared with 9 percent of those with a college degree.
  • Overall, smoking declined 21 percent since 2007, to 19 percent of all adults in 2009.
  • Men aged 25 with no high school diploma lived roughly nine years less than men with a college degree. For women, it was about eight years less. That's an increase in this disparity of about two years since 1996.
  • More poor children in 2010 were insured than in 2000, with the uninsured rate dropping by 13 percent.

In addition to income and educational disparities, the researchers also found:

  • Half of all adults don't exercise or engage in aerobic activities; this is especially true of older adults.
  • A slightly higher proportion of women are having mammograms (67 percent in 2000, 70 percent in 2010).
  • More people are being screened for colon cancer with the rate increasing from 34 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2010.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said that "the good news is life expectancy has gone up, some disparities have narrowed and some key measures of the quality of the nation's health care -- such as infant mortality -- have improved. Utilization of clinical services, including clinical preventive services, has also improved somewhat over time."

The bad news includes persistent neglect of the power of lifestyle as medicine, he said.

"The greatest opportunity to enhance medical destiny resides in the realm of lifestyle behaviors -- tobacco avoidance, healthful eating, routine physical activity," Katz said.

Another sobering element is the association between less education and poorer health outcomes, Katz added. "Financial impediments to a quality education may translate into health care costs down the line. The report invites the nation to reflect on the risks of a 'penny wise, pound foolish' approach to education and health alike," he said.

Compared to many other countries, the United States spends more on health care and "has less health to show for it," Katz said.

More information

To see the full report, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Amy B. Bernstein, D.Sc., project director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, division of analysis and epidemiology; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Health Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; May 16, 2012, CDC report, Health, United States, 2011

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