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What are the Links Between Health and Education?

For a long time people have theorized about the links between health and education, but it wasn’t until recently that large scale studies and research has gone into the subject. The findings are extremely interesting and should (should) quickly become relevant to modern day education and health policies.

In a nutshell, studies show education boosts health and health boosts education.

The educational setting is important in promoting and teaching good health, and good health is important for children to take full advantage of their educational opportunities.  Evidence indicates that good health and nutrition are prerequisites for effective learning, while children who learn good healthy habits and thought processes show a clear intellectual advantage over their peers throughout life.  

Some simple examples:

Benefit of schooling from health: A broad definition of healthy individuals includes mental well being, meaning those that are less likely to show aggressive behavior, engage in risky action, and to participate in crime. Therefore many are more likely to continue and excel in school as well. Obviously those that remain healthy are also able to attend class more regularly.

Benefit to health from schooling: Health promotion can happen directly through teaching nutrition knowledge and well being practices, as well as indirectly with education itself acting as a “social vaccine” as in the case of HIV prevention.


It doesn’t stop there, education and health have a deeper link that goes beyond the 2

In their paper, “Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence,” presented at the National Poverty Center conference “The Health Effects of Non-Health Policy,” David M. Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney conduct statistical analyses on the relationship between education and health. They find a clear association between education and health that cannot be fully explained by income, the labor market, or family background indicators. … First, Cutler and Lleras- Muney examine individuals’ mortality rates. By matching respondents with death certificates obtained through the National Death Index, they find that individuals with higher levels of education are less likely to die within five years of the interview. An additional four years of education lowers five year mortality by 1.8 percentage points (relative to a base of 11 percent). They also find that better educated individuals are less likely to self-report a past diagnosis of an acute or chronic disease, less likely to die from the most common acute and chronic diseases, and are less likely to report anxiety or depression.” -from the National Poverty Center, Prepared from a paper by David M. Cutler, Harvard University and Adriana Lleras-Muney, Princeton University.

So the better your education the healthier you remain across the board. The links are not yet fully understood, but should not be ignored. That study used individuals at about the age of twenty five (to evaluate those who had completed all schooling) but that doesn’t mean it is unrelated to childhood education. Children who learn and succeed early are more likely to go on and receive higher education, and to complete that education.

No matter the study the pattern is the same: Children who eat healthy are more likely to stay and succeed in school; those who succeed in school are more likely to eat and stay healthy. It’s incredibly simple, but the effects are still not fully realized when it comes to school and health policies. We must do our best to promote this knowledge and to help our children become the healthiest and most intelligent people they are capable of being.

More on the subject:

Education, Health, and Development – by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

PDF on The effects of education on health. –  by the  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

ISSUE BRIEF 6: EDUCATION AND HEALTH – by the Commision to Build a Healthier America

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