This week’s readings focus on self-efficacy and its effect on an individual’s perceived ability to reach a desired goal or outcome. I found an interesting NPR article that discusses how increased education leads to higher self-efficacy and better health. The title of the article is “How Education Can Save Half a Million American Lives” and explains that earning a high school diploma is as good for one’s health as quitting smoking. How is this possible? The article is based on a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York University and the University of Colorado. Researchers examined data from the National Health Interview Survey data and the American Community Survey to calculate American mortality rates of individuals based on three categories: 1.) having less than a high school degree, 2.) having some college rather than a baccalaureate degree, and 3.) have any level of education that is less than a baccalaureate degree, rather than a baccalaureate degree.
The study found that “if every adult high school dropout in the 2010 population had a GED or a regular diploma, 145,243 deaths could be averted. Similarly, 110,068 deaths could be avoided for that year if every adult who already had some college finished their bachelor’s degrees. And if everyone in the population got a bachelor’s degree, the total untimely deaths would be reduced by 554,525”. Virginia Chang, co-author of the study notes that the findings are not intended to make every American get a bachelor’s degree, but to urge the public and policy-makers to recognize the significant influence of education on American lives.
So why is education so important to our health? There are two main reasons. First, individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to attain jobs with higher income and are thus able to eat better and afford health and support services. The second reason is that education enhances cognitive skills and gives people “”more knowledge about health, more access to get that knowledge, more of a sense of agency, more self-efficacy, and better peer connections.” Researchers explain that when new health information is released, people with higher levels of education discover it first and have more access to treatment. The article concludes with a statement by Chang: “”In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking and drinking. . . Education — which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities — should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”
The article explains that individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to access relevant information and support systems than those with lower levels of education. The ability to acquire knowledge builds confidence and ultimately higher self-efficacy. It seems that increased education (knowledge) leads to a number of positive outcomes for the individual and society as a whole. Economic and educational disparities not only affect a person’s self-efficacy, they also affect their lifespan. Although it is ideal for everyone to receive some sort of higher education, it is not economically feasibility for many Americans; this is a problem that deserves further examination.
Should increased education be considered in policies regarding public health?