Lower Education Level May Increase the Risk for Heart Disease

Individuals lacking educational qualifications had a 150% increased risk of heart attack.

Findings from a new study suggest that individuals who attended, but did not graduate from college, are twice as likely to experience a heart attack compared with those who received a degree.

These results are from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study, which is the largest ongoing analysis of healthy aging in the Southern Hemisphere. The findings were recently discussed at the Cardiovascular Disease Inequalities Partnership Project, as well.

In the current study, which was published by the International Journal for Equity in Health, the researchers analyzed the link between education and cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke. Included in the study were 267,153 individuals living in New South Wales who participated in the 45 and Up Study for at least 5 years.

"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," said lead researcher Rosemary Korda, PhD.

The investigators discovered that heart attack rates for individuals 45- to 64-years-old with no education qualifications had a 150% higher risk of experiencing a heart attack compared with individuals who completed higher education, according to the study.

The risk was 70% higher among individuals with non-university qualifications compared with those who earned a college degree.

"Mid-age adults who hadn't completed high school were 50% more likely to have a first stroke than those with a university degree; those with intermediate levels of education (non-university qualifications) were 20% more likely,” Dr Korda said.

The researchers also noted a similar link between income and cardiovascular events.

"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,” Dr Korda said. “The Cardiovascular Disease Inequalities Partnership Project is continuing research in this area to better understand what is driving these socioeconomic differences."

Researchers from the 45 and Up Study said these new findings illustrate the importance of large cohort studies, which can provide investigators with valuable resources to explore expansive topics. Large studies, such as this one, can also be used to inform policy decisions.

"This research demonstrates, now that we have more robust data, how much worse the inequalities in cardiovascular disease are than we previously thought," said Emily Banks, PhD, scientific director of the 45 and Up Study. "This research also provides important clues about how much cardiovascular disease can be prevented."

Heart disease is a leading cause of death around with world, with 1 Australian individual dying every 27 minutes. These new findings could prevent this trend from occurring.

"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," said Kerry Doyle, CEO of the Heart Foundation New South Wales. "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.”