People used to search for the mythical fountain of youth. Alchemists devoted their lives to concocting elixirs of youth and many beauty treatments besides, and ancient Egyptian women drank herbal remedies for trimmer waistlines, health, vitality and fertility.
Health, longevity, beauty — we’re still looking for the same things.
The difference is, we may have finally found a solid answer. Education.
The figures below come from two separate studies:
University of Cambridge scientists conducted an intensive research, studying 22,451 individuals from Norfolk. Their results show that better educated women have substantially lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) than women with less education.
The American government’s 35th annual comprehensive health report, from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), pulls data from just under 60 sources spread across the private and public sector. The results paint an accurate picture of health levels in the lives of US citizens, with some remarkable findings about the link between obesity and education levels.
Obesity and Cholesterol
It’s no secret. The United States has become a surreal blob of McDonalds-chewing baby Shamus, and much of the western world is catching up with us. I’m slightly ashamed to say it. But there is good news, namely that women with more education keep their obesity at bay. Studies show that men have a more clear link between exercise and fat levels, but women have a far more complex report.
The NCHS reports that women, ages 25 and up, with less than a bachelor’s degree were much more likely to be obese than women with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The numbers: 43% compared to 25%.
In homes where the parents held university degrees, 11% of boys were and 7% of girls were obese. Conversely, in homes with less than a high school education, 24% of boys were obese and 22% of girls were.
One theory is that women with university degrees tend to be more physically active. This link is pretty straightforward on the male side of things. Men with manual jobs had significantly lower levels of cholesterol than their non-manual labor counterparts. It’s a bit harder to measure with women, however, as the link between education and cholesterol levels holds more weight than anything else, and there’s no definitive data indicating that women holding university degrees exercise more. We’ll explore this theory in more depth soon.
Attraction and quality of life in the present play vital roles, but the future implications of low education are solemn to say the least. The life-expectancy gap between the high school dropout and university graduate is much higher than I expected. I thought there would be a 2 or 3 year difference, tops. Turns out to be nearly a decade. Women with a university degree live longer, on average, by 9 years.
Now that we’ve waded through the sea of numbers, let’s take a look at the matching theories.
Nelson Mandela said that "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world", and apparently it’s just as powerful on a micro level; in the individual health of a person. Think about it. The woman with an education has had a number of health and nutrition classes, and likely a handful of PE classes peppered into the mix as well. Who’s going to pay more attention to their cholesterol, the woman who’s been studying and participating in health and nutrition for years, or the woman who hasn’t?
Environment and Accessibility
Every university I’ve had the pleasure of purveying (and ultimately studying at, go BakerU!) has had ample gym facilities. Indoors there’s the weight center, pool, basketball court and volleyball court. Outside there’s soccer fields, football fields, track, and even walking trails in the woods. Women who spend any amount of time on campus have a better chance at lowering their cholesterol and obesity rate simply due to the accessibility of their environment.
Who do you think has more stress, the full time student with her paper deadlines, pop quizzes and hair-wrenching finals, or the easy street, cannabis consuming dropout? Hans Selye notes that "it’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it." Some people stress-eat, and others burn off the stress with a muscle-searing workout. Judging by the numbers, I’m guessing the majority of educated women choose to melt their stress away alongside their fat, with endorphin-boosting cardio and dopamine-driving weights.
Social Class Expectations
I’ve traveled and studied in 17 countries so far, and it’s the same story everywhere. Every nation has social classes, and the expectations are different in each class. The higher the class, the more is expected in certain areas, especially health and beauty. It’s the same everywhere and I don’t expect it to change any time soon. The wealthy class is always more educated, and money tends to buy beautiful faces and shapely figures, whether we’re talking about sleazy old Hugh Hefners or codgy old cougars.
The expectations of the upper crust of society beyond education are health and beauty, which may give us another link between education and health levels. That is, education attracts money, money buys class, class expects beauty, and today’s standard of beauty involves a healthy, athletic build and low levels of fat.
The moral of the story is clear.
Get a university degree.
You’ll look better, last longer, land a richer spouse and if the numbers are right, you won’t have chubby children.