Social scientists have clearly documented the link between education and poor health: Essentially, people with lower levels of education are more likely to suffer from illness and injury, and ultimately an earlier death. (More on that next week.)
Researchers are finding out that the link between education and health is a two-way street. A new analysis published in the journal Pediatrics looked at how poor health among children effected their education. The authors reviewed 27 studies that assessed how the health status of youth ages 10 to 18 affected a range of outcomes in adulthood, including education and employment status. This is the first analysis of its kind that looked at how health effects education.
Researchers were able to clearly demonstrate that poor health during adolescent years is linked to lower education and employment status later in life. They found the most robust evidence for mental illnesses. Students who were diagnosed with depression, ADHD, and conduct disorder were significantly less likely to complete high school and go to college, and more likely to be unemployed as adults.
The evidence found similar trends for youth with physical health problems, but they did not reach statistical significance in this analysis.
“We really need to pay attention to the health behaviors of adolescents— not only because it impacts their health as adults — but because by impacting education, it influences their transition to adulthood,” explained Jane Powers, Director of the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. “Efforts to improve the health of adolescents should be a priority in public health and education systems alike.”
The take-home message is clear: Keeping young people healthy is an important factor in ensuring their success later in life. When poor health impacts education, it creates a downward spiral that exacerbates health problems and ultimately detracts from quality of life.