The number of years spent in formal education is closely related to health outcomes, both amongst individuals and across populations. Equally, health status in early years and later in life affects our ability to participate in education and society. The main factor that determines both health and educational outcomes is socio-economic status. By investing in good quality, accessible education – especially in early years – we can start to break and prevent the cycle of poverty and social exclusion, and its harmful effects on mental and physical health.
The links between health, education, and inequality are explored in a new Policy Precis from EuroHealthNet. It provides an overview of related international and European programmes and policies, actions in individual countries, and recommendations for progress.
In Europe, people with the highest level of education can expect to live 4-8 years more than those with the lowest. Quality education has a positive lifelong effect on health through increased employment opportunities and income, better living conditions, positive mental health and resilience, and (health) literacy. People with lower educational attainment have higher rates of premature mortality, morbidity, and functional and cognitive limitations, making healthy and active ageing difficult to achieve and maintain.
Many countries are already taking action to tackle inequalities in health and in education. For example, in Finland, the National Strategy for Children seeks to realise children’s rights and reduce inequalities; in Sweden, Region Västra Götaland is committed to reducing school failures to improve health and boost sustainable regional development; the Welsh network of Healthy Schools Schemes supports the development of health promoting schools; and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence helps pupils to develop resilience and learning-to-learn skills.
The Policy Precis is released as plans are being developed for a European Child Guarantee as part of the EU’s future budget. This guarantee would help ensure that the 25% of children in the EU which are currently at risk of poverty or social exclusion have access to free healthcare; free education; free early childhood education and care; decent housing; and adequate nutrition.
“Investing in children and childhood through quality education, disease prevention, and health promotion for all is vital. We welcome the EU Child Guarantee and earmarked EU budgets in order to provide the extra support needed, following the principles of proportionate universalism. The Child Guarantee should be ambitious and overcome silo thinking and a fragmented approach to services. It should take us towards a more integrated system for the health and wellbeing of all children. The guarantee would give a much-needed extra boost to ongoing actions at national and sub-national levels” said Caroline Costongs, EuroHealthNet Director.