Education: The Most Overlooked Determinant of Health

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Derr, Alex. “What are the Social Determinants of Health?”Visible Network Labs. 28 July, 2021,


Although most people can agree that education is a valuable resource that can pave the way for many forms of success, the relationship between education and health is often overlooked. Education level is in fact one of the strongest predictors of a person’s long-term health, as demonstrated by its effects on an array of significant aspects of life such as job opportunities, social support, and individual lifestyle choices. Expanding access to education through a few different channels, and encouraging people to stay in school would have positive lasting effects on overall long-term health.

Education as a Social Determinant of Health

Education is the most overlooked social determinant of health even though it is linked to many factors that influence health. It is the most powerful determinant of health because of its broad range of significance to a person’s life (Bowen, 2023). Factors as important and wide-ranging as life expectancy, morbidity, and health-related behavior are all strongly positively correlated with level of formal education (The Lancet Public Health, 2020). People who are better-educated tend to have higher levels of self-reported health and physical functioning than those who are poorly educated . They also have lower levels of morbidity, mortality, and disability (Ross and Wu, 1995).

The level of education a person has obtained is significant in the development of health because it affects employment, income, and the opportunities available to them. People that obtain higher education have a much stronger likelihood of being in good health because education has a direct effect on a person’s employment situation, which is linked to certain lifestyle factors that influence health. One study concluded that potentially avoidable factors associated with lower educational status accounts for almost half of all deaths among working-age adults in the US (Jemal et al, 2001). The results of this study demonstrate that lower levels of education impact a person’s health in a variety of ways, one of them being the types of jobs a person can obtain. If a person is qualified for a limited number of jobs due to their level of education, they may be more likely to accept a job that leads to poorer health.

Education is considered the “great equalizer,” because it is directly correlated with good health and social mobility (Zajacova & Lawrence, 2018). This is because schools can provide many benefits besides the traditional attainment of knowledge. Schools teach children important life skills and health habits for life. Upper-level education allows people to form social skills necessary for social mobility and to make connections that will aid them in the future. The multidimensional benefits of education impact people’s lives in ways we do not even realize, specifically in their capacity to create a lifestyle that is conducive to good health.

The Extensive Connection Between Education and Health

Another reason that education is the most powerful social determinant of health is because of the difference in social behaviors of those with higher levels versus those with lower levels of education are prominent. People with lower levels of education are more likely to have lifestyle habits that will lead to poor health. For example, adults with less education are more likely to smoke, have an unhealthy diet, and lack exercise (Zajacova and Lawrence, 2018). The importance of education to the development of social and psychological well-being is significant (Zajacova and Lawrence, 2018). People with higher levels of education are more easily able to gain social-psychological factors that allow for the type of support system needed to sustain good health. Economic factors also account for 30% of the correlation between education and health (Zajacova and Lawrence, 2018). This is because a person’s level of education usually dictates the socioeconomic status a person will reach.

There is a drastic difference between the self-reported health of those with higher education and those without as demonstrated by the fact that White men and women without a high school diploma have about 57% chance of reporting fair or poor health, compared to just 9% for college graduates (Zajacova and Lawrence, 2018). There are also studies suggesting that life expectancy at birth rises as the level of adult education and school life expectancy rises. Receiving a quality education allows people to learn social skills that will help them throughout life, and sets them up to live in a community of people with similar positive healthy lifestyle habits.

The Importance of Education as Demonstrated by the Covid-19 Pandemic

Covid-19 was an extraordinary example of the importance of education and how it can directly improve people’s health. The Covid-19 pandemic shined a light on the fact that the American education system needs to revolutionize the way subjects are taught. School is not only for traditional education but also for teaching people facts and skills that they can use throughout their life, such as public health. According to The Lancet Public Health, the COVID-19 crisis highlights that a school fulfills much more than an educational mission of knowledge acquisition, and there is now an opportunity for rethinking the role of the school after COVID-19—an opportunity to redefine what type of school we want for the future. This can apply not only to elementary education but also higher education. People acquire many life skills greater than academics, such as independence, financial skills, and social skills. The struggle with education during the pandemic was a great indicator of how people can fall behind if they are not able to form these skills early on. Elementary education provides a safe place for children and teaches them not only the usual subjects but also a variety of necessary life skills. Covid-19 and the ensuing modifications to education serve as a wake-up call that the education system needs to be reformed at all levels, not only to ensure that people can have access to a traditional education but also to provide them with the opportunity to develop skills that will benefit their overall life and health.

Ways to Remedy the Issue

There are multiple ways that we can work to reduce the disparity between education and good health. One way to increase access to higher education is a system of universal state-sponsored higher education that would be more beneficial to students than the current financial aid systems. Lowering prices for students and having the government help fund education would greatly expand access. Government investment in education would help increase the positive effects of education. Another way to remedy the issue would be to expand access to education in all forms in order to reach larger amounts of people. UNESCO advises to expand the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information. Looking at education through a more holistic lens would allow people to obtain the life-changing facets of education that are typically overlooked. Increasing the number of people who attend colleges and universities would improve people’s life expectancy, which is good for their overall health and good for society. Governments should work to improve access to tertiary education and control the number of people dropping out of school (Raghupathi, 2020).


The three main connections between health and education are the fact that education can create better opportunities for health, poor health can put educational attainment at risk, and the conditions a person lives in can affect both their health and education (Virginia Commonwealth, 2015). Education is the most significant social determinant of health because it has effects that can span many aspects of a person’s life. The government should do more to try to help people obtain education in order to increase their overall health and the health of society.


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Education: The Most Overlooked Determinant of Health
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