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Knowledge and Health Behavior

By April 4, 2012April 5th, 2012Commentary

Consumer involvement in health and health care is dependent on basic capability to understand information and make decisions and on a motivation to do so.  One tactic to increase engagement is to raise awareness through education.  A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research examines the relationship between education, knowledge and health behaviors.   (NBER Paper)   From a sociodemographic perspective, a significant body of research finds an association between more education and better health, which seem to be mutually reinforcing along with an improvement in wealth and overall well-being.  Having these virtues seems to be passed on to children.   One theory is that more education generally leads to more knowledge about health issues, which in turn leads to better health behaviors.  The authors sought to understand better the links between education, health knowledge and health behaviors.

The basic method was to use survey data which included an individual’s overall educational level, specific health knowledge and health behaviors.  About 9000 individuals who were surveyed twice on health knowledge were the subjects and the primary outcomes were cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.  In general, more education was found to lead to less smoking and less heavy drinking.  As a side note, marriage had a similar effect, but working more hours had the opposite effect.  An increase in knowledge about specific health risks associated with them also led to less smoking and drinking, but not beyond what is present from general level of education.  In addition, a person’s native cognitive ability does not seem to further reduce bad health behaviors beyond what is accounted for by education levels.   So it appears that more education alone can account for better health, without regard to specific intelligence or specific health knowledge.

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