CDC: Higher Income and Education Levels Linked to Better Health

People with more education are more likely to earn a decent living and enjoy better health, according to the government's annual health report.

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More educated people who make more money have lower rates of several chronic diseases, including obesity, compared to people with lower education and income levels, according to Health, United States, 2011, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.

In the government’s 35th annual comprehensive health report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), data from nearly 60 major data sources within the federal government and in the private sector provide a health-related snapshot of life in the U.S. The NCHS looks at data from the start of the study in 1975 through 2010. “We like to highlight different things we find interesting for readers,” says Amy Bernstein, a health services researcher at NCHS.

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Among the report’s findings:

  • In 2007-2010, homes where the head of the household had a higher level of education resulted in lower obesity rates among boys and girls aged 2 to 19 years.  In households where the head of the house had a bachelor’s degree or higher, 11% of boys were obese and 7% of girls were. Comparatively, in homes where the head of household had less than a high school education, 24% of boys and 22% of girls were obese.
  • Women age 25 and over with less than a bachelor’s degree were more likely to be obese than women with a bachelor’s degree or higher: up to 43% compared to 25%.
  • In 2010, half of adults 18 years old and over failed to meet federal physical activity recommendations for aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening.
  • In 2006, on average, men age 25 without a high school diploma had a life expectancy 9.3 years less than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Women without a high school diploma had a life expectancy 8.6 years less than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Between 2000-2010, the percentage of children with a family income below 200% of the poverty level who were uninsured decreased from 22% to about 13%.  The percentage with a family income at 200% to 399% of the poverty level who were uninsured decreased from 9% to 7%, and children with a family income at 400% of the poverty level who were uninsured decreased from 3% to 2%.

The researchers also found that people with a high school diploma or less were more likely to be smokers than those with at least a bachelor’s degree.

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“Highly educated persons are more likely to be employed and well-paid than the less educated. They have a higher sense of control over their health and lives and more social support,” the authors say in the report. “In addition, the well-educated are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and avoid unhealthy ones.”

Dr. Jim Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota is unaffiliated with the study but researches the link between poverty and obesity. According to Levine, there are several reasons poverty and chronic diseases like obesity go together. For instance, “in many poverty-dense regions, people are…unable to access affordable healthy food, even when funds avail.” Other studies have found people with lower incomes tend to have more sedentary living environments.

Bernstein says this association between poverty, lower education levels and poorer health has been relatively stable for years but remains concerning. “They are things you don’t necessarily think about, but these differences have persisted in the last decade and it’s a problem,” she says.

You can find out more from the Health, United States, 2011 report here.

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