Education and social change could save more lives than medical advances

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, March 1, 2007

Media Contact:
Leslie Champlin
(800) 274-2237 Ext. 5224
The Robert Graham Center
Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care
Washington, D.C.


WASHINGTON — Investing in education and other social changes could be more effective in saving lives than medical advances.  Reviewing vital statistics from 1996 to 2002, researchers found that nearly 1.4 million deaths could be averted if mortality rates among adults with less than a high school education were the same as those at higher education levels. That is eight times as many deaths as could be averted by medical advances according to the findings of a new study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

During the time period analyzed, medical advances averted a maximum of 178,193 deaths, while correcting disparities in education-associated mortality rates could have saved 1,369,335 lives during the same period.  Mortality rates among adults with a high school education and those with less than a high school education are 2.7 and 2.3 times higher, respectively, than rates among those with at least some college education.

The authors conclude that education empowers individuals with knowledge, which helps them to make better personal health choices.  Moreover, education also leads to higher earnings which allow individuals to access quality health care.

"It makes sense that better education would enhance health outcomes," said Steven H. Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., lead author on the study.  "An educated population is better positioned to access information and understand the implications of lifestyle and health care options."

The authors assert that the data suggests correcting the conditions that cause people with inadequate education to die in greater numbers will do far more to save lives than making incremental improvements in the technology of medical care.  They contend that society’s preoccupation with technological advances puts lives at risk, and they suggest that based on how many lives can be saved, efforts to correct societal conditions causing education-associated mortality should be proportionately greater than the investment in medical advances.

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Editor’s Note:
Full text of the article can be found at

The Robert Graham Center conducts research and analysis that brings a family medicine perspective to health policy deliberations in Washington. Founded in 1999, the Center is an independent research unit working under the personnel and financial policies of the American Academy of Family Physicians. For more information, please visit

The information and opinions contained in research from the Robert Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.

March 01, 2007