Better-educated people in the United States appear to be more likely to make healthy lifestyle changes when confronted with a new health problem in middle age compared with their less-educated peers, researchers report in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Previous studies show that better-educated middle-aged people are less likely to smoke and are more apt to be physically active than those with less education. But study author Rachel Margolis, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, said better-educated middle-aged people who smoke or who are not physically active are also more likely to make lifestyle alterations after a change in their health status.
“Health behavior changes are surprisingly common between ages 50 and 75, and the fact that better-educated middle-aged people are more likely to stop smoking, start physical activity, and maintain both of these behaviors over time has important health ramifications,” said Margolis in a release. “This finding helps explain why there are educational differences in chronic disease management and health outcomes.”
Margolis’s findings are based on data from the Health and Retirement Study, in which participants in the United States aged 50 to 75 years answered questions about their health and lifestyle every 2 years, from 1992-2010. She collected data on 16606 participants and focused on smoking cessation efforts for those diagnosed with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, stroke, and cancer, and exercise efforts for those diagnosed with hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.
Among respondents in their 50s, those who had not completed high school had about a 15% to 20% probability of quitting smoking when faced with a new chronic condition, while those with a college education had more than a 30% probability of quitting. The latter also had about a 22% probability of starting physical activity following diagnosis of a new chronic condition, compared with an 18% probability for those who had not completed high school.
As for those aged 61 to 75 years, Margolis found higher educational levels were not associated with increased lifestyle modification. She speculated that perhaps the longer people expect to live when diagnosed with a chronic condition, the more likely they are to adapt lifestyle changes.