Telomere (in red), from Gerontology Association of Nova Scotia

A report by researchers at University College London (UCL) was released today in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity and concludes that people with fewer academic qualifications are prone to age more quickly than those who have more years of study.  To reach this conclusion, researchers split 450 volunteers, healthy men and women aged between 53 and 76 years, into four groups according to how long they had spent in education.  After adjusting for possible confounding factors, such as age, gender, and various health indicators, the researchers compared DNA samples of the people in the various education groups.  They found that people who spent the least time in school had shorter telomeres or “caps” on the ends of their DNA, a sign of premature aging in cells.

In an interview with the BBC,  Professor Andrew Steptoe, who led the study, explains that scientist had long known that there is a “connection between health and socioeconomic status.”  However, past attempts to link telomere length to faster biological aging had yielded inconsistent results.  The study thus suggests that “education might be a more precise determinant of a person’s long term health rather than their current income and social status.” He goes on to say that: “Education is a marker of social class that people acquire early in life, and our research suggests that it is long-term exposure to the conditions of lower status that promotes accelerated cellular ageing.”

Analyzing the report’s findings Professor Stephen Holgate, said that the  study backs up the main message found by long-term studies for over half a century: “Your experiences early in life can have important influences on your health.” Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the research reinforces the need to tackle social inequalities to combat ill-health.  He said: “It’s not acceptable that where you live or how much you earn – or lesser academic attainment – should put you at greater risk of ill health.”

Take a few minutes to learn more about this study on the articles below and share your thoughts with IAHSA.  What steps can your country take to improve health education among groups that left education early on? Could a country invest in education as a way to reduce expenditures on aged care later on?


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