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A Life Lesson: The Link Between Health and Education

A Life Lesson: The Link Between Health and Education

Our indispensable schooling systems have certainly been under scrutiny over the past year, so let’s remind ourselves just how central education is to breaking the poverty cycle and improving the health of future generations.

Wealth is Health

A child born to an educated mother is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. The correlation between a country’s economic prosperity and the average life expectancy of its nationals has long been accredited to the relationship between wealth and health. The explanation for this is self-evident – more money affords us greater agency to manage, nurture and ultimately pay for the health of our minds and bodies. 

The resources required to eat a balanced diet are luxuries which can rarely be purchased by the poverty-stricken. For those born to disadvantaged groups and communities, time – needed to exercise and practice mindful habits – is a foreign currency, one exchanged only with the disposable income of the wealthy or financially stable. 

However, one facet of the human condition has been found to have an even more consistent impact on the health of an individual – their access to education. Now, disentangling the effects of these two components of a child’s development can, naturally, be challenging. Each year of school increases a person’s earnings by 10 per cent, so education and affluence are intrinsically linked, with both acting as reliable drivers towards a healthy future.

“People with higher levels of education frequently have higher incomes, so are often spared the health harming stresses that stem from prolonged social and economic hardship,” explains Kari Sutton, children’s resilience expert and author of Raising a Mentally Fit Generation. “These stresses can shorten people’s telomeres (which protect our DNA), causing them to age faster and increasing their risk of chronic illness over those whose lives are free of such stresses.” 

But increased social mobility and opportunity to succeed financially aren't the only upshots of education that determine richer health in those who attend school.

Empower with Knowledge

“A greater level of education generally increases a person's access to and application of health-related knowledge, while improving their ability to make efficient and relevant use of such information in their daily lives,” says Sutton.

The ability to apply a learned knowledge of positive health behaviours to personal circumstance, coupled with the financial doors that going to school opens for disadvantaged children, allows for a double-pronged approach to providing the foundational building blocks required for children to construct a long and healthy life for themselves.

For schools that exist in under-resourced communities, however, the positive health benefits of even the physical structures themselves can be felt for miles around. Through Tropic’s partnership with United World Schools (UWS) and their water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, students in poor and remote communities are provided access to clean water, bathrooms and health education. These facilities are not only available to teachers and those who visit UWS schools – affording them a basic understanding of clean and healthy habits – but the knowledge imparted on those who use them provides an invaluable tool for improving overall health, disease prevention and life expectancy in surrounding communities.

“There’s also a causal effect of poor health, especially in early childhood, and the ability to get a good education,” explains Sutton. “If children experience poor health in their early childhood years it increases their risk of not doing well at or even completing school, which then in turn leads to an increased risk of poor health outcomes during their adult lives.”

Nutrition also has a huge impact on mental capacity, performance and development in school-age children, so it’s important to support students to stay healthy. UWS does this by developing vegetable gardens within their school grounds, meaning children can take home a range of vegetables to share with their families. They also provide kindergarten students with breakfast every day, to ensure they have the energy required for a day full of learning and playing with their peers. 

A Pandemic of Hindered Progress

For children living in some of the areas that UWS work in, the health risks of not attending school are grave, and these risks are felt disproportionately by women and girls. It’s estimated that Covid-19 has put 2.5 million more girls at risk of underage marriage, violating their rights and directly correlating to a predicted increase in gender-based violence. This violence often damages the health of such girls, thus diminishing their chance of ever being able to study again. The cycle of poverty and violence is thus played out once more, loop after loop.

The pandemic has shone a blinding spotlight on the importance of global healthcare and access to health information, while its set-backs to education across the globe are leaving some children, especially young girls, in the dark. With global Covid-19 school closures, a third of the world’s children aren’t in education and around 24 million children may never go back to school after lockdown (UWS). 

This is why Tropic’s work with UWS has never been more important. If 24 million children don't go back to school, that means 24 million more children who are more likely to be exploited, abused or become trapped in a cycle of poverty and illiteracy.

At time of writing, Tropic has funded 2.5 million days of school for 12,500 children across the world through their partnership with UWS. They believe that education is a human right, and the alternatives for vulnerable children are simply wrong. By supporting Tropic, you’re helping to protect the health and happiness of young children across the globe, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come. A child born to an educated mother is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. Let’s give that mother access to education now.

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