Dr David Bann, Lecturer/Research Officer, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL Institute of Education

What have you been working on?

Trying to better understand health inequalities in society using longitudinal data – in this case, data from a British study which began in 1970 (the 1970 British Cohort Study).

In particular, how the education system relates to later health. Given the importance of the school environment, does attending a higher resourced school improve health decades later?

What have you found?

We found that an elite education was linked to improved health over 25 years later. Attending a private school rather than a state comprehensive was linked to a lower body mass index and healthier behaviours (less television viewing and eating fewer takeaway meals).

If we narrow the gap between state and private schools, there could be lasting health benefits

These links remained after we accounted for family socioeconomic background, childhood cognitive test scores and other factors. The differences were quite large – equivalent to losing almost one stone (six kilos) of weight for a man of average height.

Why is it important?

As a society we are facing enormous public health problems, including an obesity epidemic and an outrageous health gap between rich and poor.

Previous research has found that higher educational attainment leads to improved health, but attainment is not the only aspect of education that is important for health.

Our study adds to this by linking the type of school and university attended with subsequent health.

What do you hope the impact will be?

A greater realisation of the importance of early life for later adult health—improving our education system could improve the nation’s health, preventing lots of future disease and saving healthcare costs.

If we narrow the gap between state and private schools, there could be lasting health benefits.

Part of this could be that state schools preserve their playing fields, and have the same number and quality of sports and extracurricular facilities as private schools.