Encouraging teens to seek higher education may do more than boost their job prospects and earning potential. A recent study by researchers from the United States and China shows that people who have higher levels of education may have lower levels of calcium buildup in their arteries.
Calcium buildup in the arteries of the heart can predict a person's risk of heart disease. In this study, researchers tracked 2,913 young adults between 18 and 30 years of age from four large U.S. cities for 15 years. At the beginning of the study and 15 years later, the adults noted how much education they'd completed, answered questions about how often they exercised and whether they smoked, and had their blood pressure, cholesterol, height, and weight measurements taken. They also underwent imaging tests to measure calcium buildup in the arteries.
After 15 years, about 9% of the people in the study had calcium buildup in the arteries. People with less than a high school education had the highest risk, followed by high school graduates and people with some college education. In general, college graduates had the lowest risk for calcium buildup.
When researchers took into account risk factors from the start of the study (such as whether a person smoked, exercised, or was overweight), people with less than a high school education and high school graduates still had the highest risk of calcium buildup. Lower levels of education were strongly related to worsening blood pressure levels and obesity over the 15-year study period; they were also linked to a higher prevalence of smoking and physical inactivity.
Even after other risk factors were taken into account, college graduates still had the lowest risk of calcium buildup. The study authors suggest that, in general, higher education may improve a person's access to health care and ability to stick to medical therapies and drug treatments.
What This Means to You. Higher educational attainment is associated with lower risk of developing calcium buildup in the arteries, according to the results of this study. Even if your teen does not plan to pursue higher education, discuss how he or she can reap the physical benefits of regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.
Source: Lijing L. Yan, PhD, MPH; Kiang Liu, PhD; Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD; Laura A. Colangelo, MS; Catarina I. Kiefe, MD, PhD; Stephen Sidney, MD, MPH; Karen A. Matthews, PhD; Philip Greenland, MD; Journal of the American Medical Association, April 19, 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2006