Education key to boosting Americans’ health, longevity

Americans spend thousands of dollars more annually on medical care than people in other wealthy nations, but tend to have shorter, less healthy lives. What’s the most cost-effective way to help Americans stay well? It’s through education, according to economist David Cutler, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard University.

“As we grapple with what comes next in health care, we ought to remember that the wisest health investments may be far removed from the delivery of medical services. When it comes to promoting good health, education is the best prevention,” Cutler wrote in a January 20, 2018 Politico article.

Unhealthy behaviors contribute to 40% of U.S. deaths, he wrote. “By every metric measured, more educated people have healthier behaviors than less educated people. More educated people smoke less, weigh less, and are less likely to drink to excess. They wear seat belts more regularly, receive more preventive care, and take chronic care medications more faithfully.” Each year of education adds to health, he wrote. “People with an associate’s degree are healthier than those who ended education at high school, and four-year college graduates are even healthier.”

Read the Politico article, in which Cutler suggests ways to expand access to education: The school-first solution: A top economist games out how to spend education money for health payoffs.

Learn more

Education levels linked to hypertension in African Americans (Harvard Chan School news)