People who leave school with no qualifications are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as those with a university degree, according to new research.
The findings come from a groundbreaking new Australian study of healthy ageing in the Southern Hemisphere.
Researchers investigated the links between education and cardiovascular disease events – such as a heart attack or stroke – by following 267,153 men and women in the state of New South Wales aged over 45 for more than five years.
Lead researcher Dr Rosemary Korda, of The Australian National University (ANU), said: “The lower your education, the more likely you are to have a heart attack or a stroke – that’s the disturbing but clear finding from our research.
“Our study found that in adults aged 45 to 64 heart attack rates among those with no educational qualifications were more than double – around 150 per cent higher – those of people with a university degree.
The risk was around two-thirds, or 70 per cent, higher among those with intermediate levels of education: non-university qualifications.
“Mid-age adults who hadn’t completed high school were 50 per cent more likely to have a first stroke than those with a university degree; those with intermediate levels of education – non-university qualifications – were 20 per cent more likely.”
Dr Korda said a similar pattern of inequality existed between household income and cardiovascular disease events.
She said: “What these differences in cardiovascular disease rates between more and less disadvantaged groups show us is just how much cardiovascular disease in the population can be prevented.
“The Cardiovascular Disease Inequalities Partnership Project is continuing research in this area to better understand what is driving these socioeconomic differences.”
Professor Emily Banks, Head of Epidemiology for Policy and Practice at ANU, said: “This research demonstrates, now that we have more robust data, how much worse the inequalities in cardiovascular disease are than we previously thought.
“This research also provides important clues about how much cardiovascular disease can be prevented.”
Kerry Doyle, chief executive of the Heart Foundation New South Wales, said that heart disease was the single leading cause of death in Australia, with an average of one Australian dying every 27 minutes.
She said: “We know that a good education impacts long term health by influencing what type of job you have, where you live and what food choices you make.
“This research provides an opportunity to further unpack the specific relationship between educational achievement and cardiovascular disease risk, and what can be done to reduce this risk.”
The findings were published in the International Journal for Equity in Health.