This week in 1987 I was starting my first ‘proper’ job as a secondary school teacher in Oldham. Finding myself, 30 years on, writing an introduction to the Health Foundation’s new infographic on why education is good for your health feels a little like life has gone full circle.

Infographic depicting how our education and skills can influence our health

Download the infographic (PNG) | Download the infographic (PDF)

The infographic illustrates the multiple ways in which our early education can shape the advantages and opportunities we do, or don't, encounter in our adult life, and why investing in education is widely seen as fundamental to building a flourishing society. A rounded education develops us as future citizens and equips us with the abilities and attributes that directly influence our long term health outcomes. Whether in terms of the nature of the work our qualifications enable us to pursue, or the life skills we learn that can help us navigate the challenges life throws at us.

Reading the background material we amassed in researching the infographic was like reading the health benefits of a wonder-drug. The contribution of education on long term health has been described in terms of:

  • 'both potentiating and protective; it can trigger healthier futures, mitigate social stressors, and provide access to employment opportunities and life chances that could protect individuals from later-life disadvantage.'
  • 'the single most important modifiable social determinant of health.'

And this isn’t just rhetoric. Studies show that the more educated and skilled you are, the more likely you will report better health even when compared with individuals with similar background characteristics.  

I left teaching after a few years because I wanted to take up the opportunity to do a PhD (an example of taking my medicine perhaps?). This eventually led me to a career in what we call the ‘health’ sector. However, in the many conversations I have had with clinicians where they describe their daily encounters with the diseases of poverty and despair, I have often wondered whether I might have had more impact on people’s long term health if I had stayed in teaching.

Teachers (and all the people who work in schools) are part of the hidden public health workforce. As our infographic shows their endeavours aren’t just about producing GCSE certificates, but are critical to young people:

  • developing supportive social connections
  • accessing good work
  • developing an aptitude for life-long learning and problem solving
  • feeling empowered and valued.

These all have direct consequences on their long term health outcomes: whether through increasing someone’s likelihood of being able to afford a good quality life, or through better managing or being less exposed to life’s challenges. 

The new school year starts this week. If this blog does reach anyone about to embark on a teaching career (or maybe even some established teachers looking for fresh inspiration), I would ask them to reflect on the profound impact they can have on young people’s lives. Maybe also think about the words of Aristotle who said, 'Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.'

Jo Bibby is Director of Strategy at the Health Foundation, @JoBibbyTHF

References

Further reading

Comments

Loukia Lucas



I think the 'type' of education children are receiving is important here. If we are teaching children 'life long healthy habits,' to 'better manage life challenges,' and 'find suitable employment,' then great. Unfortunately, this is NOT what is taught is schools. Within educational establishments, we lower children's self esteem, judging them by narrow standards dictated by set tests; exercise and the arts take a back seat, in favor of 'exam practice'; we ignore bullying incidents because we need to crack on with ensuring our classes get the required levels (or face the wrath of our senior management teams and Ofsted). We teach children to suppress independent thought, provide them with no guidance in finding appropriate employment, and we do not equip them with the skills they need to support their mental/physical health or develop their resilience to cope in the world outside school. Children become obese and anxious because it is suggested to parents that the results a child gets in tests is the key to their future success in life. The detrimental effects education can have on health must be considered too.



Jo Bibby



Thanks for sharing your thoughts Loukia. As a parent having had 3 children go through the education system over the last 20 years, I can relate to many of the things you say. We absolutely need education that enables every child to develop their own unique talents and build self-esteem. Through our inquiry into young people's future health we will be looking at (among other things) what the education system needs to be doing differently to develop young people to have the resilience necessary for long term well being. Read more here: http://www.health.org.uk/collection/young-people%E2%80%99s-inquiry



Jo Bibby



Thanks for sharing your thoughts Loukia. As a parent having had 3 children go through the education system over the last 20 years, I can relate to many of the things you say. We absolutely need education that enables every child to develop their own unique talents and build self-esteem. Through our inquiry into young people's future health we will be looking at (among other things) what the education system needs to be doing differently to develop young people to have the resilience necessary for long term well being. Read more here: http://www.health.org.uk/collection/young-people%E2%80%99s-inquiry



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