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Education linked to lower blood pressure

Being better educated lowers blood pressure — one of the underlying causes of heart disease
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
blood pressure being taken

28th February 2011 - Stressed students on the eve of important exams may not agree, but new research suggests that people who stay longer in education have lower blood pressure.

The effect also seems to be particularly pronounced among women, according to the study which appears in the journal BMC Public Health.

High blood pressure is one of the main causes of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

One UK heart charity said the findings underlined the need to reduce health inequalities.

30 year study

The scientists from the US, Canada, UK and Australia looked at data from the American Framingham Offspring Study which followed 3,890 people for 30 years, monitoring their medical history and how long they stayed in education.

Lead author Eric Loucks, assistant professor of community health at Brown University, Rhode Island in the US, says the analysis may explain a widely documented association in the developed world between education and the risk of heart disease.

Loucks says they set out to answer the question, ‘Does education influence heart disease?’ "One of the ways to get at that is to see if education is related to the biological underpinnings of heart disease, and one of those is blood pressure,” he says in a statement.

Greater benefit for women

The scientists compared men and women who had completed less than 12 or more than 17 years in education. They found that women who had studied for 17 or more years had systolic blood pressure readings that were, on average, 3.26 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) lower than women who had only undergone up to 12 years in education.

The difference was not as marked in men. Those who had stayed in education longer had systolic blood pressure 2.26 mmHg lower than those who had left full-time education earlier.

Even after controlling for influences such as smoking, drinking, obesity and blood pressure medication, the benefit persisted, the teams found. These factors though reduced the benefit to 2.86 mmHg for women and 1.25 mmHg for men.

Socio-economic explanation

Loucks offers an explanation for why being better educated may have a greater protective effect for women than men. "Women with less education are more likely to be experiencing depression, they are more likely to be single parents, more likely to be living in impoverished areas and more likely to be living below the poverty line," he says.

The authors acknowledge that one of the drawbacks to the study is that the details are drawn from a predominantly white suburban area.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) agrees that the study has its limitations. Senior Cardiac Nurse at the BHF, Natasha Stewart, said in a statement that “the study only showed up a small blood pressure drop among women and an insignificant decrease among men”. She adds: “It has its limitations too because the relatively small numbers of people involved were mostly from a white, suburban background. It doesn’t investigate whether the findings apply to all ethnic groups.”

However, Stewart also says that the findings add to evidence of a link between socio-economic deprivation and heart disease. “Action is needed across all parts of society to give children the best possible start in life and reduce health inequalities,” she says.

Reviewed on February 28, 2011

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