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Less education may mean shorter lifespan

A low level of education may be hazardous to your long-term well-being, a new study suggests.

Based on analysis of more than 1 million Americans, the study investigators estimated that more than 145,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who hadn't graduated from high school had earned a GED or high school degree.

The researchers also estimated that about 110,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who had some college education had completed their bachelor's degree.

It's important to note that this study didn't prove that a lack of education caused more deaths, only that there was an association between education levels and risk of death.

However, the researchers suggested that lack of education could play a role in the risk of death in a number of ways. Factors associated with more education include a higher income and social status, healthier behaviors, along with better social and psychological well-being, the researchers said.

Findings from the study were published July 8 in the journal PLoS One.

The study included information collected between 1986 and 2006. People included in the study were born in 1925, 1935 and 1945.

The researchers also found that the more education someone has, the lower the risk of death during the study period. For example, there was a slight decrease in death rates among those with high school degrees, but a much larger decrease among those with college degrees.

Heart disease was a greater factor than cancer in the increased risk of death among those with lower levels of education, the study found.

"In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking and drinking," said study author Virginia Chang. She is an associate professor of public health at New York University's School of Culture, Education and Human Development and College of Global Public Health, and an associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine.

But, she added in a university news release, "Education -- which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities -- should also be a key element of U.S. health policy."

More than 10 percent of American adults between the ages of 25 and 34 don't have a high school degree, the researchers said. More than 25 percent have some college education but no bachelor's degree, they added.

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