The fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is summarized by its title: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, the connections between education and health are diverse and bi-directional.
On the one hand, education affects health in direct and indirect ways. More education is strongly linked to higher income and usually, minimum levels of education (high school, vocational training, college) are required for most decent jobs. This means not only higher salaries but also, health-promoting benefits such as health insurance, sick days, and vacation days. Therefore, education is one way for people to access the necessary resources to have the potential of living healthy lives (see the blog post on SDG1 for a more detailed explanation of the connections between poverty and health).
In a more direct way, basic cognitive skills such as the ability to read and count are required to understand medical instructions, correctly take medicines, and, in general, make better-informed decisions about healthcare. Moreover, formal education helps people to develop social and psychological skills that contribute to better mental health and more resilience (often associated with reduced stress). In general, researchers have observed that people with more formal education are more likely to learn about the different health options available and to choose the best ones.
On the other hand, students that enjoy better health are more likely to learn more because they can attend more classes while also better concentrating during them. This is observed more often in economically developing countries where debilitating diseases such as malaria and gastrointestinal infections are one of the main reasons for poor learning outcomes in school-age children. However, in richer countries, health issues such as hearing and vision difficulties, behavioral disorders, or conditions that require hospitalization can impact the ability of students to fully benefit from formal education.
Beyond the individual level, a correlation between the mother’s education and the child’s health has been observed by many researchers. Besides the correlation mentioned above between education and income, more educated mothers are more likely to properly and timely utilize healthcare services and learn relevant information for their children.
At an even larger scale, increasing the number and diversity of people that can go to school and complete higher education increases the number of scientists working on the next medical breakthrough as well as the number of nurses, doctors, and other health workers thus increasing the quality and accessibility of healthcare for everyone.
Finally, at the global level, SDG4 aims also to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, […]”. This would help to improve the quality of air, water, and soils, the livability of cities, as well as tackling some of the major issues faced by humanity such as climate change and anti-microbial resistance. In other words, it would foster the health of not only humans, but also animals, plants, and the environment: One Health.
By: Dr. Luca Mantegazza | Research Program Coordinator