Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Education is good for your health

A thirty-year study of almost 4000 participants in the Framingham Offspring Study showed a clear, though small, correlation between amount of education and systolic blood pressure. According to a study led by Eric Loucks of Brown University, those with the most education had slightly lower blood pressure than those with the least.

When Loucks and his colleagues looked at people of similar age, completing graduate school compared with not finishing high school gave women a 2.86 mmHg advantage and men a 1.25mmHg advantage. Next, the researchers examined the records of individuals who had all started with the same blood pressure thirty years ago, and checked to see how their blood pressure changed over time. Women who went on to complete graduate school during the intervening thirty years had 2.53 mmHg lower blood pressure than those who hadn’t finished high school. For men, the advantage was only 0.34 mmHg.

These differences are far too small to spell the difference between health and cardiovascular illness by themselves. However, it is also known that people with more than seventeen years of education tend to have a lower body mass index, and to smoke and drank less than people with less than twelve years of education. What I wonder is whether a person could get a similar benefit from a lifetime of independent curiosity and learning.


  1. Mightn't this be a case of "correlation isn't necessarily causation"? Isn't it probable that people who have the resources to have graduate educations (stay out of work force longer, often, incur more student loans) are from different socio-economic group than those who stop at high school--and that therefore there are a host of other reasons why blood pressure is lower, body mass index is lower, smoking and drinking rates are lower...?

    Or did the original article make it clear that all of this was controlled for in the study groups?

  2. I'm not sure they adjusted for socio-economic status, so that's a good point. That's one reason I'd be interested in seeing whether a general interest in learning could produce the same results. Between the internet and free public libraries, most people could continue to educate themselves if they wish.