Health and Education

Social Science and MedicineOBSSR works to advance the scientific understanding of the causal pathways and mechanisms that explain the widely accepted, but poorly understood positive association between education and health.

Funding Opportunity Announcements
A Sample of Findings
2003 RFA Funded Projects
Education and Health Bibliography
Contact Information




On January 8, 2003 the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBBSR), in collaboration with NCI, NIA, and NICHD, issued a RFA calling for R01 grant applications on Pathways Linking Education to Health. The goal of this RFA was to increase the level and diversity of research directed at elucidating the causal pathways and mechanisms that may underlie the association between education and health. Ultimately, OBSSR provided funds for 13 grants, involving several methodological approaches and study populations. During the first two years of the awards, OBSSR convened the PIs in informational exchanges concerning their projects.

Funding Opportunity Announcements

Education and Health: New Frontiers (R01)

Education and Health: New Frontiers (R03)

Education and Health: New Frontiers (R21)

A Sample of Findings 

These are some of the findings from funded projects of the 2003 RFA “Pathways linking education to health.”

  • Compulsory schooling and memory
    Using changes in state compulsory schooling laws as natural experiments (instruments) for estimating the effect of education on memory and mental status among the elderly, researchers found that increases in mandatory schooling lead to improvements in performance on memory tests many decades after school completion. Results help to establish a causal effect of education on old age cognition (Buka, AG023397).
  • Higher education and hypercholesterolemia
    Higher education significantly increased the odds of being screened for hypercholesterolemia overall and within each race/ethnic group. Focusing public health policy on increasing screening for individuals with low education might greatly improve their chances of preventing or mitigating morbidity related to hypercholesterolemia and subsequent cardiovascular disease (Crimins, AG03347).
  • Literacy and diabetes
    Literacy mediated the relationship between education and glycemic control in a low-income population with diabetes (Karter, HD046113).
  • Decision-making
    The benefits of education for health operate not only through improvements in economic status, but also by affecting patterns of thinking and decision-making (Paxson, HD046162).
  • Gender and depression
    The gender gap in depression disappears among persons with a college degree or higher. Education increases work creativity more sharply for women than for men, thereby reducing depression. Education increases the sense of control for both sexes equally, but depression declines more steeply for women as sense of control increases (Ross, AG023380).
  • Education and major chronic diseases
    The health benefits associated with additional years of schooling have risen sharply over time. One component of this increasing health value to schooling rests in a growing disparity by education in the probability of having major chronic diseases during middle age. A component of the rising value of schooling rests in improved disease management (Smith, AG023363).
  • Long term effects of childhood nutrition and cognitive achievement
    A study of the effects of health on education examined the effects of a childhood nutritional supplementation program on schooling outcomes, cognitive achievement, and abstract reasoning. Results indicate significantly positive, and fairly substantial, effects of the randomized intervention a quarter century after it ended (Stein, HD046125).
  • Education and smoking in pregnancy
    Mothers with a higher education are less likely to be smoking at conception and are more likely to quit during pregnancy, in effect widening the educational disparity in smoking over the course of pregnancy. However, women with less education were no more likely to relapse after pregnancy than women with a higher level of educational attainment (Hair, HD046123).

2003 RFA Funded Projects

Project Principal Investigator Title
HD046144 BEHRMAN, JERE R Causal Effects of Schooling on Adult and Child Health
AG023397 BUKA, STEPHEN L Pathways Linking Education/Health in Middle Adulthood
AG023347 CRIMMINS, EILEEN M. Biological Risk Underlying Education Health Differences
HD046166 DESAI, SONALDE B. Parental Education and Child Outcomes
HD046103 ENSMINGER, MARGARET E. Value of Education-Paths to Well Being over Life Course
HD046123 HAIR, ELIZABETH C Parent education to child health: Longitudinal pathways
HD046113 KARTER, ANDREW JOHN Educational Disparities in Diabetes Complications
HD046162 PAXSON, CHRISTINA H The Relationship Between College Education & Health
AG023380 ROSS, CATHERINE E Education, Resource Substitution, and Health
CA105621 SCHAPIRA, MARILYN M Establishing a Link between Numeracy and Health
AG023363 SMITH, JAMES PATRICK Education, Self-Management and Adherence
AG023370 SOLDO, BETH J Comparative Approach to SES Gradient: Aging & Selection
HD046125 STEIN, ARYEH DAVID Education and Health Across the Life course in Guatemala

Education and Health Bibliography

Alderman, Harold, Jere R. Behrman, and John Hoddinott (2007) "Economic and Nutritional Analysis Offer Substantial Synergies for Understanding Human Nutrition" J. Nutr 137: 537-544.

Alley, Dawn et al. (2006) "Socioeconomic Status and C-reactive Protein Levels in the U.S. Population: NHANES IV" Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 20: 498-504.

Corvalan, C. et al (2007) "Size at birth, infant, early and later childhood grown and adult body composition: A prospective study in a stunted population" International Journal of Epidemiology 36:550-557.

Crimmins, Eileen, Jung K. Kim, and Teresa E. Seeman (2009) "Poverty and Biological Risk: The Earlier "Aging" of the Poor" J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 64A, no.2, 286-292.

Crimmins, Eileen M. et al (2005) "Changes in Biological Markers of Health: Older Americans in the 1990s" Journal of Gerontology Vol 60A, No. 11, 1409-1413.

Crimmins, Eileen M. et al (2007) "Hispanic Paradox in Biological risk Profiles" American Journal of Public Health 97:7, 1305-1309.

Crum, Rosa et al (2006) "Educational Achievement and Early School Behavior as Predictors of Alcohol-Use Disorders: 35-Year Follow-Up of the Woodlawn Study" J. Stud. Alcohol 67: 75-85.

Fothergill, Kate E. et al (2007) "The impact of Early School Behavior and Educational Achievement on Adult Drug Use Disorders: A Prospective Study" Drug and Alcohol Dependence 92: 191-199.

Gibson-Davis, Christina M. and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn (2006) "Couples' Immigration Status and Ethnicity as Determinants of Breastfeeding" American Journal of Public Health 96(4); 641-646.

Gibson-Davis, Christina M. and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn (2006) "Breastfeeding and Verbal Ability of 3 Year-Olds in Multicity Sample" Pediatrics 118

Gillman, Stephen et al (2008) "Educational Attainment and Cigarette Smoking: A Causal Association" International Journal of Epidemiology 37:615-624.

Gregory, Cria O. et al. (2008) "Five-Year Changes in Adiposity and Cardio-Metabolic Risk Factors among Guatemalan Young Adults" Public Health Nutrition 12(2), 228-235.

Gregory, Cria O. et al. (2007) "Detection of Cardio-Metabolic Risk by BMI and waist circumference among a population of Guatemalan adults" Public Health Nutrition" 11(10); 1037-1045.

Gregory, Cria O. et al (2009) "Diet scores and cardio-metabolic risk factors among Guatemalan young adults" British Journal of Nutrition 101; 1805-1811.

Gregory, Cria O. et al (2007) "Occupation is more important than rural or urban residence in explaining the prevalence of metabolic and cardiovascular disease risk in Guatemalan adults" Journal of Nutrition

Hoddinott, John et al. (2008) "Effect of a nutrition intervention during early childhood on economic productivity in Guatemalan adults" Lancet 271:411-416.

Judd, Suzanne, Manuel Ramirez-Zea, and Aryeh D. Stein (2008) "Relation of Ratio Indices of Anthropometric Measures to Obesity in a Stunted Population" American Journal of Human Biology 20: 446-450.

Karas, Montes, Friedman, Esther, M. (editors). (2015) Special Issue: Educational Attainment and Adult Health: Contextualizing Causality. Social Science & Medicine

Volume 127, Pages 1-206 (February 2015)

Karter, Andrew J. et al (2007) "Glycemic Response to Newly Initiated Diabetes Therapies" Am J. Manag Care 13(11): 598-606.

Karter, Andrew J. et al (2008) "Educational Disparities in Rates of Smoking Among Diabetic Adults: The Translating Research Into Action for Diabetes Study" American Journal of Public Health 98(2); 365-370.

Karter, Andrew J. et al. (2007) "Educational Disparities in Health Behaviors Among Patients with Diabetes: The Translating Research Into Action for Diabetes (TRIAD) Study" BMC Public Health 7:308

Kim, Jung Ki et al (2006) "Recent Changes in Cardiovascular Risk Factors among Women and Men" Journal of Women's Health 15:6, 734-746.

Kim, Jung Ki et al (2007) "Changes in Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy Use Since 1988" Women's Health Issues 17:338-341.

Li, Hongbin, Junsen Zhang, and Yi Zhu (2008) "The Quantity-Quality Trade-Off of Children in a Developing Country: Identification Using Chinese Twins" Demography 45:1, 223-243.

Lowe, Sarah R. et al (2009) "The Impact of Pet Loss on the Perceived Social Support and Psychological Distress of Hurricane Survivors" Journal fo Traumatic Stress 22(3); 244-247.

Martin, Laurie T. et al. (2007) "The Effects of Father Involvement during Pregnancy on Receipt of Prenatal Care and Maternal Smoking" Matern Child Health J 11:595-602.

Martin, Laurie T. et al. (2008) "Correlates of Smoking Before, During, and After Pregnancy" Am J. Health Behavior 32(3): 272-282.

Martin, Laurie T. et al (2007) "Childhood Cognitive Performance and Risk of Generalized Anxiety Disorder" International Journal of Epidemiology 36:769-775.

Martin, Laurie and Laura D. Kubzansky (2005) "Childhood Cognitive Performance and Risk of Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study of Gifted Individuals" American Journal of Epidemiology 162:887-890

Merkin, Sharon Stein et al (2009) "Education Differentials by Race and Ethnicity in the Diagnosis and Management of Hypercholesterolemia: A National Sample of U.S. Adults (NHANES 1999-2002)" Int J Public Health 54: 166-174.

Merkin, Sharon Stein et al. (2009) "Neighborhoods and Cumulative Biological Risk Profiles by Race/Ethnicity in a National Sample of U.S. Adults: NHANES III" Ann Epidemiol 19: 194-201.

Moffet, Howard H. et al. (2009) "Cohort Profile: The Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE)-objectives and design of a survey follow-up study of social health disparities in a managed care population" International Journal of Epidemiology 38:38-47

Racial/Ethnic Bias and Health: Scientific Evidence, Methods, and Research Implications Conference, April, 2002. Papers from the conference were published in the American Journal of Public Health, February 2003, Vol. 93, Issue 2.

Ramirez-Zea, Manuel et al "Anthropometric predictors of body fat as measured by hydrostatic weighing in Guatemalan adults" Am J. Clin Nutr 83:795-902.

Ross, Catherine E. & John Mirowsky (2006) "Sex Differences in the Effect of Education on Depression: Resource multiplication or Resource Substitution?" Social Science & Medicine 63: 1400-1413.

Ross, Catherine and Wei Zhang (2008) "Education and Psychological Distress Among Older Chinese" J Aging Health 20: 273-289.

Schapira, Marilyn M. et al (2008) "A Framework for Health Numeracy: How Patients Use Quantitative Skills in Health Care" Journal of Health Communication 13:501-517.

Seeman, Teresa et al (2008) "Education, income and ethnic differences in cumulative biological risk profiles in a national sample of US adults: NHANES III (1988-1994)" Social Science & Medicine 66: 72-87.

Stein, Aryeh D., Angela M. Thompson, and Ashley Waters (2005) "Childhood Growth and Chronic Disease: Evidence from Countries undergoing the nutrition transition" Maternal and Child Nutrition 1: 177-184.

Stein, Aryeh D. et al. (2006) "Exposure to a Nutrition Supplementation Intervention in Early Childhood and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in Adulthood: Evidence from Guatemala" Am J. Epidemiol 164: 1160-1170.

Contact Information

Michael Spittel, Ph.D.