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.

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?

Video

To understand what makes us healthy, we need to look at the bigger picture. Watch our animation to...

Related blogs

Blog

Teachers: The hidden public health workforce

19 September 2017
Blog

Many studies have noted the strong association between better educational achievement and better...

Blog

Improving health outcomes of young people by developing soft skills

20 October 2017
Blog

How can developing soft skills enable young people to access good quality work, and opportunities to...

Blog

Building literacy for better health in Middlesbrough

27 October 2017
Blog

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

You might also like...

Press release

Survey presents a worrying picture of children's and young people’s mental health

Press release

Health Foundation response to NHS Digital’s survey on the mental health of children and young people...

Event

Launch event: COVID-19 impact inquiry

Event

The Health Foundation has launched the COVID-19 impact inquiry, a UK-wide inquiry exploring the...

Research report

Using economic development to improve health and reduce health inequalities

Research report

This report sets out how economic development can be used to improve people’s health and reduce...

Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101 copy

Get social

'Not everybody is eligible for self-isolation payments, meaning many people – and particularly those who are self-e… https://t.co/HaZXSNxsSM

Follow us on Twitter
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