How do our education and skills influence our health?

30 August 2017

Thumbnail

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.

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.

Infographic: How do education and skills influence our health?

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

Video

Watch: What makes us healthy?

To understand what makes us healthy, we need to look at the bigger picture. Watch our animation to find out about the wider f...

Related blogs

Blog

Teachers: The hidden public health workforce

Many studies have noted the strong association between better educational achievement and better health outcomes. The associa...

Blog

Improving health outcomes of young people by developing soft skills

How can developing soft skills enable young people to access good quality work, and opportunities to live healthy lives?

Blog

Building literacy for better health in Middlesbrough

Our ability to read, write and communicate in everyday situations has a huge influence on our wellbeing and health.

You might also like...

Blog

From low quality homes to insecure tenancies: how housing harms health is changing

Adam Tinson uses the latest data to explore changes in how housing affects health.

Research project

Understanding inclusive growth and health in practice

This project aims to generate new depth to our understanding of inclusive economic strategies and their impact on health outc...

Research project

The role of good work in an inclusive economy

An Institute for the Future of Work project to develop, promote and apply their Charter for Good Work through a wide-ranging ...

Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101

Work with us

We look for talented and passionate individuals as everyone at the Health Foundation has an important role to play.

View current vacancies
Artboard 101 copy 2

The Q Community

Q is an initiative connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK.

Find out more