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How to save 145,243 lives with high school diplomas
Your high school or college diploma might be doing more than helping you get a job and taking up space in your attic. It could be saving your life. - photo by Shelby Slade
Your high school or college diploma might be doing more than helping you get a job and taking up space in your attic. It could be saving your life.

A new study has put a number on how many premature deaths could be avoided when people earn a high school diploma: 145,243.

To find this number, researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compared the relative risks of death for people with varying levels of education to the educational attainments all Americans have received, Alia Wong reported for The Atlantic.

The researchers found that if the section of the population that does not have a diploma were to receive an advanced degree, more than 110,000 premature deaths would be prevented.

According to U.S. Census data from 2014, 12 percent of Americans over 18 years of age do not have a high school diploma or GED. Beyond that, 20 percent do not pursue an advanced diploma, like an associates or bachelors degree.

The health benefits of getting a higher education have been well documented. In all age groups, higher education levels correspond to lower rates of obesity, according to the College Board.

Some illnesses, like cardiovascular disease, are also significantly less common among people with greater educational attainments, Anya Kamenetz reported for NPR.

The federal government recognizes this correlation and has made increasing high school graduation rates one of the points of its Healthy People 2020 agenda, Wong wrote.

But the benefits don't stop there. People with college degrees and high school diplomas also have higher cognitive skills, Kamenetz reported. This means they are able to get information more effectively and have better peer connections.

However, when thinking about health, Americans tend to focus on the direct cause of the problem, rather than the larger issues, like education, that lead to the health issue in the first place, Wong wrote.

Receiving an advanced degree oftentimes allows Americans to obtain a better paying job that provides them with more resources.

"In the simplest version, people with more education have higher income and more money," explained Virginia Chang, who worked on the study, in the NPR article. "They can afford to eat better, a gym membership or a personal trainer, support to quit smoking."

Chang believes it's important to take a more holistic view of an individual and look at the original factors that could contribute to a premature death.

If someone is dying of lung cancer, we focus on the smoking because that was one of the more proximal events, Chang said to Wong. We dont go more upstream and think about social conditions as fundamental causes of mortality.
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