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Health of U.S. Tied to Education Gap, Researchers Report

Higher levels of education in the U.S. correlate with longer life expectancy and less obesity, according to the government’s annual health report.

Obesity, which leads to chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart disease, was twice as high among boys and three times as high for girls in families whose head of household lacked a degree compared with more educated households. The report, which included a special feature on socioeconomic status and health, was released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Health disparities persist even in the face of efforts to lower them, Amy Bernstein, a health services researcher and lead study author, said in a telephone interview. The Department of Health and Human Services has created programs to help reduce the illness inequalities that appear for certain racial and economic groups. Today’s report suggests the programs haven’t been successful, she said.

“There are huge differences by education,” Bernstein said. “I was surprised to see things haven’t improved.”

As of 2006, a 25-year-old man without a college degree lived 9.3 fewer years than a peer with a bachelor’s degree or higher; for women, the less-educated lived 8.6 fewer years, according to the report. The life expectancy gap by education widened by 1.9 years for men and 2.8 years for women from 1996 to 2006, the report said.

Education and Income

Education level and income are interconnected, though the overlap isn’t perfect, as it’s possible to be well-educated and poor, Bernstein said.

Poverty is tied to the greatest health disparities. In 2005 to 2010, depression among those 20 to 64 years old was five times as high for those below the poverty line as those whose incomes were 400 percent or more above it. Toothlessness in adults older than 45 was also five times higher in those living below the poverty line, compared with those who made at least 400 percent more than poverty level.

The report also found an increase in the number of young adults without health insurance and more people going without care or medication because they didn’t have enough money.

The number of people 18 to 44 years old who were uninsured rose to 27 percent in 2010 from 22 percent in 2000, while those on Medicaid, the U.S. program that pays for health care for the poor, almost doubled to 11 percent, according to the report. Young adults up to age 26 now can be covered by their parents’ insurance as part of the 2010 U.S. health law.

Cost of Uninsured

In 2008, the cost of the uninsured to the federal, state, and local governments was about $42.9 billion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, California-based nonprofit health research group. Uninsured patients tend to require costly treatment because they don’t get enough preventive care, said Ethan Rome, the executive director of Health Care for America Now!, an advocacy group that supports the health overhaul. The number of people 18 to 64 who waited to get necessary care because it was too expensive increased during the last decade, the report showed.

“These are among the reasonable numbers to use to evaluate the effectiveness of Obamacare,” Rome said in a telephone interview. “We can see if we get healthier as a nation, and whether health-care costs grow at a slower rate over time.”

Among those 18 to 64, 15 percent of people didn’t get required care in 2010 because it was too expensive, compared with 9.2 percent in 2000. Total personal health-care costs almost doubled to $2.1 trillion in 2009.

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