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Go to college if you want to live longer

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
longevity, education, health insurance, fast-food, disparity

A new study has reported good news and bad news regarding longevity. Americans are living longer; however, a disparity exists for those with less education. For decades, it has been known that a correlation exists between education and longevity; however, a new study financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides a detailed analysis of what that relationship looks like across the nation’s more than 3,000 counties.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin accessed government data to rank each American county by health indicators such as obesity, smoking, drinking, physical inactivity, and premature death. It even included factors such as the density of fast-food restaurants in a county. The researchers noted that the correlation between a college education and longevity has grown stronger over time. Premature death rates differed markedly between counties, and a lack of college education accounted for about 35% of that variation from 2006 to 2008 (the most recent years available). That rate marked a 30% increase over an equivalent period seven years earlier.

The study defines a premature death as one that occurs before age 75, which is often preventable.
It presents new evidence that longevity varies by the level of education. A college education is currently an important predictor of good health and future earnings; however, its unequal distribution among towns and cities has resulted in an increasingly uneven geography of well-being in the nation. According to the findings, when average post-secondary education levels increased by one year, there was a 16% decline in years of life lost before age 75, noted lead author Bridget Booske Catlin, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Huge variations in health and longevity were found by geographic location. In New York, for example, Putnam County, north of New York City, was the healthiest, with just 8% of its residents in poor or fair health, compared with 25% in the Bronx, which had the worst health of any county in New York. Adult obesity was about the same in both counties, approximately a third of the population; however, the Bronx had a teen birth rate that was more than five times that of Putnam County. The report did not compare counties on a national level; they were county-by-county within individual states.

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The premature death rate in the Bronx (8 out of 100) was almost double the rate in Putnam (4.4 out of 100). Fast-food restaurants comprised 44% of restaurants in Putnam County, compared with 62% of restaurants in the Bronx.

The educational disparity was also significant. More than 90% of teenagers in Putnam County graduated from high school, compared with 60% of those in the Bronx; furthermore, 70% of Putnam County residents attended some college, compared with 47% of adults in the Bronx. The percentage of uninsured individuals also varied markedly: 17% of Bronx residents lacked health insurance, compared with 8% of Putnam County residents.

Click on this link to view the complete report.

Reference: University of Wisconsin

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