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Advanced Degrees for Better Health?

Mar 15, 2011

Popular opinion holds that the further into higher education one delves, the more stressful things become. From quizzes and finals to capstone projects and dissertations, students seeking their bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree have a huge workload to manage, and that can stress out even the calmest student. A new study released by Brown University, however, reports a surprising conclusion: the more education a person has, the better their blood pressure will fare.

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By Eric Garneau

A decades-long study conducted by Brown University has produced an interesting result: the more years of higher education a person engages in, the lower their blood pressure will be throughout their life. Eric Loucks, an Assistant Professor of Community Health at the university, spearheaded this study, which also found a much more significant long-term benefit to women than men.

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The Findings

Specifically, women who undertook at least 17 years of education (or at least one year of graduate school) showed blood pressure on average 3.26 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) lower than their less educated counterparts. Men with the same educational background reported blood pressure that was 2.26 mmHg lower. For those of both sexes who partook in undergraduate study but never went further, benefits to blood pressure were also apparent, but lessened.

Further, when Loucks looked at the data of test subjects over time, he found that educated women retained this benefit, showing 2.53 mmHg pressure less on average throughout their life. For men, the long-term benefit dipped significantly, to 0.34 mmHg less pressure over time.

Problems with the Study

Loucks pointed out one possible shortcoming of this research. Its subjects were culled from a suburban environment three decades ago, and so contains a disproportionately Caucasian sample group. Therefore, the results of this study may not apply to other races.

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The Explanation

If you think about it, perhaps it's not so surprising that educated people tend to be healthier. Their advanced degrees afford them better job opportunities, which entail higher-paying positions. Those people are typically more liable to pay for premium healthcare services, which those living in poverty often can't afford.

This also accounts for the study's significant gender difference. According to Loucks, undereducated women are especially more susceptible to socioeconomic factors that keep good healthcare out of their reach, including being single parents or suffering depression. No wonder, then, that a good education makes a serious difference in many aspects of a woman's life.

The Conclusion

From this study, Loucks concludes that policymakers looking to improve public health might want to take a look at supporting education. Those two issues currently stir up lots of controversy in the political world, and it's possible that combining them might help solve a few problems by, as the expression goes, killing two birds with one stone. Regardless of this study's future impact on politics, though, students of higher education can rest easier knowing that, statistically speaking, better health is in their future... as long as they can get past their finals.

Interested in maintaining good health while getting an education? Read about how students can get the most out of the recent healthcare reform.

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