Staying in education linked to lower risk of heart disease

August 31, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Staying in education is associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

The findings provide the strongest evidence to date that increasing the number of years that people spend in the system may lower their risk of developing coronary heart disease by a substantial amount, say the authors.

Many studies have found that people who spend more time in education have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease. However, this association may be due to confounding from other factors, such as diet or physical activity.

To date, it has been unclear if spending more time in education has any causal impact on heart disease—in other words, whether increasing education might prevent it.

To better understand the nature of this association, and help inform public policy, a team of international researchers from University College London, the University of Lausanne, and the University of Oxford set out to test whether education is a risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease.

They analysed 162 genetic variants already shown to be linked with years of schooling from 543,733 men and women, predominantly of European origin, using a technique called mendelian randomisation.

This technique uses genetic information to avoid some of the problems that afflict observational studies, making the results less prone to confounding from other factors, and therefore more likely to be reliable in understanding cause and effect.

The authors found that towards more time spent in education was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

More specifically, 3.6 years of additional education, which is similar to an undergraduate university degree, would be predicted to translate into about a one third reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.

Genetic predisposition towards longer time spent in education was also associated with less likelihood of smoking, lower body mass index (BMI), and a more favourable blood fat profile.

And the authors suggest that these factors could account for part of the association found between education and coronary heart disease.

The results remained largely unchanged after further sensitivity analyses and are in line with findings from other studies, and the effect of raising the minimum school leaving age.

The authors outline some study limitations. For example, it is not fully understood how genetic variants cause changes to the length of time spent in education, and this could have introduced bias.

However, key strengths include the large sample size, use of genetic randomisation to minimise confounding.

They suggest that: "Increasing the number of years that people spend in the educational system may lower their risk of subsequently developing coronary by a substantial degree."

These findings "should stimulate policy discussions about increasing educational attainment in the general population to improve population health," they add.

A linked editorial suggests that, overall, the authors make a convincing case that a longer duration of education decreases risk of in a causal manner.

Brent Richards at McGill University in Canada and colleagues say the results "are strong and robust to sensitivity tests, which probe most of the potential biases in the results. When taken together with other and quasi-experiments, their conclusions are convincing."

Explore further: Play it smart: Stay in school for a healthier heart

More information: Education and coronary heart disease: mendelian randomisation study www.bmj.com/content/358/bmj.j3542

Editorial: Does staying in school protect against heart disease? www.bmj.com/content/358/bmj.j3849

Related Stories

Play it smart: Stay in school for a healthier heart

August 31, 2017
(HealthDay)—Higher education has been linked to better jobs, greater pay and, now, even a healthier heart.

Genetic predisposition to higher calcium levels linked with increased risk of coronary artery disease

July 25, 2017
A genetic predisposition to higher blood calcium levels was associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack, according to a study published by JAMA.

Higher BMI linked with increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes

July 5, 2017
Results of a new study add to the evidence of an association between higher body mass index (BMI) and increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, according to ...

Is educational attainment associated with lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease?

June 12, 2017
Men and women with the lowest education level had higher lifetime risks of cardiovascular disease than those with the highest education level, according to a new study published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Higher IQ in childhood is linked to a longer life

June 28, 2017
Higher intelligence (IQ) in childhood is associated with a lower lifetime risk of major causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, smoking related cancers, respiratory disease and dementia, finds a study published ...

Social inequality in heart disease risk among UK women is due to lifestyle choices

October 13, 2016
Women with lower levels of education and living in more deprived areas of the UK are at greater risk of coronary heart disease, and this is largely due to smoking, obesity and physical inactivity, according to a study of ...

Recommended for you

Some cancer therapies may provide a new way to treat high blood pressure

November 20, 2017
Drugs designed to halt cancer growth may offer a new way to control high blood pressure (hypertension), say Georgetown University Medical Center investigators. The finding could offer a real advance in hypertension treatment ...

Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?

November 17, 2017
The buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries is an unfortunate part of aging. But by studying the genetic makeup of people who maintain clear arteries into old age, researchers led by UNC's Jonathan Schisler, PhD, have identified ...

Raising 'good' cholesterol fails to protect against heart disease

November 16, 2017
Raising so-called 'good' cholesterol by blocking a key protein involved in its metabolism does not protect against heart disease or stroke, according to a large genetic study of 150,000 Chinese adults published in the journal ...

Popular e-cigarette liquid flavorings may change, damage heart muscle cells

November 16, 2017
Chemicals used to make some popular e-cigarette liquid flavorings—including cinnamon, clove, citrus and floral—may cause changes or damage to heart muscle cells, new research indicates.

Possible use for botulinum toxin to treat atrial fibrillation

November 16, 2017
From temporarily softening wrinkles to easing migraines, botulinum toxin has become a versatile medical remedy because of its ability to block nerve signals that can become bothersome or risky.

New model estimates odds of events that trigger sudden cardiac death

November 16, 2017
A new computational model of heart tissue allows researchers to estimate the probability of rare heartbeat irregularities that can cause sudden cardiac death. The model, developed by Mark Walker and colleagues from Johns ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.