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Health risk of inadequate education

(Vienna 25th June 2012) Inadequate education is a known risk to health. At the Centre for Public Health (Institute of Social Medicine) and at the University Department of Internal Medicine III (Department of Gender Medicine) at the MedUni Vienna, the relationship between education, gender, lifestyle and health risks has now been investigated. The result: women with less education have a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes or hypertension than men, who in turn have a much higher risk of stroke.

Based on information from 13,600 interviewees (50.9% women) in the Austrian Health Information Survey (Statistik Austria), the occurrence of chronic diseases and lifestyle were set against individuals' level of education. The mandatory school-leaving qualification was defined as the lowest category, while graduating from university was classed as the highest.

The result: “The lower the level of education, the higher the general risk to health,” says Anita Rieder from the Institute of Social Medicine, Centre for Public Health. The risk was even higher among women: “Women with the mandatory school-leaving qualification are four times more likely to develop diabetes and two and a half times more likely to develop hypertension than women who have a university degree. Differences of this magnitude were not seen in men," adds Alexandra Kautzky-Willer, Gender Medicine expert at the MedUni Vienna. That said, the risk of stroke among men with a poor educational background is significantly higher. Interestingly, educational differences were not seen to have any impact on the likelihood of a heart attack either among men or women.

Men eat more red meat, women are smoking more
The most interesting results, regardless of the level of education, were that men generally exercise more than women, but eat less healthily than women, who primarily eat less red meat. Says Kautzky-Willer: “On the other hand, however, women are smoking more – and from a young age too.” Women were also more likely to show signs of depression and anxiety, whereas men tended more towards heart attacks and obesity. This phenomenon increased in both genders as the level of education decreased, implying that an improvement in the education system would also reduce the cardiovascular risk for men and women further, according to the clinicians leading the study.

Encouragingly from an Austrian perspective, being overweight and obesity are not increasing in Austria as dramatically as in other European countries.

Service: BMC Public Health
“Women show a closer association between educational level and hypertension or diabetes mellitus than males: a secondary analysis from the Austrian HIS.” A. Kautzky-Willer; T. Dorner, A. Jensby, A. Rieder. BMC Public Health 2012, 12:392 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-392.