The report suggested that factors outside of the medical system play an important role in determining people's health, including how long they will live. Access to medical care is crucial, the report authors said, but it isn't enough to improve health.
What's needed, they suggested, is increased focus on schools and education -- encouraging people to obtain more education -- as well as more promotion of healthy living in the home, community and workplace.
From a "big picture" perspective, Williams said, health promotion should be emphasized and taught more -- and earlier -- in schools. Health habits in adulthood, he said, are built during childhood. It's also crucial, he said, to have a healthy neighborhood and workplace.
Angner said that he's found in his recent research that the older adults he has studied who could read and answer questions on medical forms without assistance were likely to be happier than those who could not.
Improving literacy -- and thus improving the ability to read and understand medical forms -- could boost health among adults, he said.
For adults whose education was stopped early, returning to school might help their health as well as their job prospects, the experts say. And if that's not an option, Angner said, simply trying to improve reading skills should make a difference.
The National Institute for Literacy has more on literacy services.
SOURCES: David R. Williams, Ph.D., professor, public health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Erik Angner, Ph.D., assistant professor, philosophy and economics, University of Alabama at Birmingham; "Reaching America's Health Potential Among Adults: A State-by-State Look at Adult H
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