By Dennis Archambault
Education is one of the critical determinants of health, but often the least understood. Neighborhoods Taking Action Partnership, an program developed by the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, asserts that “a good education can lay the foundation for a healthy life.”
Those who are education may not analyze how their knowledge, and the privilege that knowledge may help them achieve, contributes to their health status. It may not assure that they will use that knowledge wisely, but they should “know better.”
The interrelationship between educational attainment — and presumed knowledge — and health is defined by lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, self-reported poor health, and number of sick days among the well-educated. “The impact of education on health goes beyond what people learn in the classroom because health is impacted by every corner of a person’s life,” according to a fact sheet published by the Partnership in 2014. “People with more education are more likely to live in safer neighborhoods where they have access to healthy foods, good schools and green space for exercise; to be employed in a well-paying job; and to have strong relationships, all of which impact how well and how long people live.”
Consider a couple of these relationships:
- People with more education are more likely to live in safer neighborhoods: This obviously implies less risk of physical assault and reduced stress from the fear of personal or property crime. It also is likely to mean that the neighborhood is likely to be closer to resources like quality food sources and health services. And the neighborhood is likely to have a better natural environment.
- Green space for exercise: Just living next to a park or having greenways for walking, running, or cycling doesn’t mean that a person will exercise, but they’re more likely to do so than those living in a poorly maintained neighborhood where they’re frightened to go out alone. Also, an educated person is more likely to have had some physical fitness as a student, perhaps developing athletic discipline and a knowledge of the relationship between exercise and health.
- Employed in a well-paying job: By definition, a well-paying job is more likely to offer a better health insurance benefit, as well as other benefits that contribute to well-being, such as sick days, or perhaps a health club benefit. Certainly, having more income allows greater access to good food, exercise facility options, and health services. And when you have to pay deductibles and co-pays for health services, you’re able to.
The Partnership makes one final, important point: “Education teaches us how to be healthy… Education increases knowledge and skills. The more education, the more likely people will be able to seek out and understand health information.” The challenge of health literacy is one that crosses all social strata, but impacts the functionally illiterate greatly. If you can’t read a pharmaceutical prescription, and can’t understand basic health concepts, you will have difficulty navigating the health system and maintaining health.
Neighborhoods taking action is funded through the Robert Wood Jonson Foundation’s Roadmaps to Health Community Grants Program, with matching funds provided by The Skillman Foundation and a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. For more information, contact the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center at 734-764-5171.
Dennis Archambault is director of Public Affairs for Authority Health (formerly known as Detroit Wayne County Health Authority).