Death rates increasing for least educated

Staying in school just got a little more appealing.

In case you needed another good reason to hit the books, at least one study published by the American Cancer Society in the Public Library of Science, found higher education is linked with lower death rates.

Death rates from all causes among Americans rose over a 9-year period for those who didn’t finish high school and declined for college graduates.

Researchers examined deaths of people between the ages of 25 and 64 and took into account factors such as gender, ethnic background and educational attainment.

In 1993 death rates ranged from just over 165 per 100,000 among highly educated white women to over 1,250 per 100,000 among poorly educated black men. In 2001, white women with more education still had the lowest death rates and less educated black men still had the highest rates, but percentage rates changed substantially.

Most notably, the death rate among highly educated black men declined from almost 600 to only 381.6 per 100,000 between 1993 and 2001.

Overall, a significant association was found between amount of education and change in mortality during the study period.

Researchers said education itself is not necessarily the protective element here, but education level is considered a general marker for socioeconomic status, which tends to affect overall health and access to health care.

Those with less education tend to have fewer resources, less employment and less health literacy. Of course, socioeconomic factors also affect access to decent housing, nutritious food and ability to be proactive about health matters. Further, those in poverty seem to have increased vulnerability to other health risks such as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and HIV.

In fact, HIV related deaths decreased the most dramatically in this study with double-digit annual decreases among those with college degrees. Other specific causes of death studied included death rates due to cancer, heart disease, accidents, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Life expectancy inequalities based on socio-ecomonic factors are increasing due to reductions in death rates among the most educated combined with stable or worsening trends among those with the least education.

Although these results are from only one study, the findings do echo another study also conducted in the US, which shows general life expectancy is falling in poorer areas of the country.

This gap between so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ will continue to exist as long as we have groups of people in our society who receive fewer opportunities for education, safe housing, employment and other resources.

We need to ensure all members of a community are valued and allowed to live in dignity with appropriate, timely access to health care and opportunities to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Latimer, president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and local psychiatrist, can be reached at (250) 862-8141 or [email protected]. Columns can be found at

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About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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