How Education Impacts Health

This is the third in a five-part series being published in newspapers throughout Western North Carolina. Our aim with this series is to expand the public’s understanding of social drivers of health and the struggles individuals face when they are unable to modify these factors.

We are grateful for the media’s support and for helping us share this informational series.

Education stands as a foundational social driver of health, shaping individual outcomes and community well-being in profound ways.

“Beyond its traditional role as a means of acquiring knowledge and skills, education plays a pivotal role in determining health outcomes by influencing factors ranging from health literacy to socio-economic status,” said Lori Bailey, Executive Director of Nantahala Health Foundation, which has partnered with HIGHTS since 2019 to ensure Jackson County’s most vulnerable students receive the services they need to be successful.

Education enhances health literacy, empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about their health. Well-educated individuals are more likely to understand health information, engage in preventive behaviors, and effectively navigate the healthcare system. This leads to better management of chronic conditions, reduced risky behaviors, and increased utilization of preventive services, all of which contribute to improved health outcomes.

Moreover, education is intrinsically tied to socio-economic status, which has a cascading effect on health. Higher levels of education often lead to better job opportunities and higher income, allowing individuals and families to access quality healthcare, safe housing, and nutritious food. Additionally, education equips individuals with critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and adaptability, traits that can enhance resilience in the face of life’s challenges and contribute to better mental health.

“Education also influences the development of healthy behaviors and lifestyles,” Bailey continued. “Schools provide a platform for imparting knowledge about nutrition, physical activity and the dangers of substance abuse. Educated individuals are more likely to engage in healthy habits, such as regular exercise and balanced diets, leading to reduced risks of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders.”

Furthermore, education contributes to community health by fostering social cohesion and informed citizenship, she continued. Well-educated communities are better equipped to understand public health messages, participate in health-promoting initiatives, and advocate for policies that address health disparities. Education also correlates with lower crime rates and improved neighborhood environments, factors that positively impact overall community health.

“Quality education serves as a pivotal social driver of health, influencing health outcomes at individual, community, and societal levels,” Bailey said. “Its effects extend beyond the acquisition of knowledge, encompassing improved health literacy, socioeconomic advancement, healthy behaviors, and community engagement. Recognizing the interconnectedness of education and health underscores the importance of equitable access to quality education to promote better health and well-being for all.”