National Academy of Medicine

Understanding the Relationship Between Education and Health

By Emily Zimmerman, Steven H. Woolf
June 05, 2014 | Discussion Paper

In their discussion paper, Zimmerman and Woolf provide an overview of the large body of evidence that links education and health. They discuss education in the context of a socioecological model of health, that illustrates the social and other determinants of health, and explain that the relationship between educational attainment (for example, years of education) and health is not entirely linear. Education influences multiple skills and traits that mediate its relationship to health. These skills and traits include problem solving ability, literacy, and personal control, and some provoke physiologic responses or lead to greater ability to manage one’s health. Education is also likely to increase individuals’ access to earnings and wealth, and to social networks and support. Zimmerman and Woolf describe a range of community characteristics that appear to be linked with health outcomes and educational attainment. For example, people who are more educated are more likely to live in neighborhoods that have parks and green spaces, good access to high quality foods, greater safety/lower crime rates, and lower environmental exposures (less proximity to power plants, highways, factories, etc.). The authors explore the social policies that influence educational outcomes, especially those that shape early childhood experiences and address problems that occur along biological pathways known to be linked with poor health and educational outcomes.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily of the authors’ organizations, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies). The paper is intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. It is not a report of the NAM or the National Academies. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.