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Better academic performance in high school improves health in adult life

(RxWiki News) Earning good grades in high school may lead to better health throughout life, according to Pamela Herd, an associate professor of public affairs and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Past studies have shown that education and good health are related, but Herd's new research shows that higher performance in high school plays a crucial role in having a healthier adult life.

The findings of this study, which were published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, reinforce the importance of excelling in school, not only for employment and earnings but also for one's health.

Herd came to her conclusion through analysis of data from a survey of 10,000 Wisconsin high school graduates from the class of 1957. Throughout the last 53 years, researchers involved in the survey, called the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, have met with these graduates six times in order to ask them questions about work, life, family, and health.

In order to study the links between academic performance and health, Herd looked at the relationships between educational attainment, high school academic performance, personality and psychological characteristics, and late-life health among high school graduates. She found that those who had a higher class ranking had a lower likelihood of experiencing worsening health between 1992 and 2003, when the class of 1957 was nearing retirement age.

Researchers still do not know what mechanisms actually lead to better health in those who excelled in high school. However, says Herd, there are policy implications: "What we're seeing is what you learn in school may actually matter for you health." She concludes, "[The study] tells us something about the consequences of emphasizing test scores over academic performance, for example, and further speaks to the importance of schooling."

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Review Date: 
December 7, 2010