MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Robert M. Kaplan
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Years of formal education is one of the strongest correlates of life expectancy. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between educational attainment and life expectancy with adjustments for other social, behavioral, and biological factors. Using data from a large cohort of nearly 30,000 adults, we found that education was a very strong predictor of survival and that biological and behavioral factors only partially explained the relationship.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: Factors external to health care have powerful effects on health outcome. The crude relationship between education and life expectancy is very strong in comparison to other risk factors. For example, the crude relationship between elevated versus normal LDL cholesterol is about 0.67 quality-adjusted years of life. In contrast, several studies suggest that the crude relationship between having a college degree versus less than a high school education is about 10 quality-adjusted life years.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: The results of this study are consistent with several previous publications. Education is an interesting leverage point because it is potentially mutable. Unlike some other social determinants of health, education can be boosted. But, we need new research demonstrating the causal relationship between investments in education and health outcome. Collaborations between education researchers, who are actively doing intervention studies, and public health investigators, may be fruitful.