Learning prolongs our lives
HIGH school drop-outs are shaving more years off their lives than packa-day smokers and the big number of students failing to complete secondary school should be treated as a public health emergency, research shows.
Curtin University public health expert Bret Hart will argue teachers are better than doctors at prolonging life when he delivers the opening address at a Perth conference hosted by Wellbeing in Schools Australia (WISA) on Friday.
He points to US research that found a 12-year difference in average life expectancy between those with less than a high-school education and those who have earned a degree.
“By contrast, the difference in life expectancy between someone who smokes 30 cigarettes a day and someone who has never smoked is just six years,” Dr Hart said.
“And elevated cholesterol is associated with just a six-month drop in life expectancy.”
Almost four in 10 high school students left the public system without obtaining a WA Certificate of Education in 2016.
Dr Hart, who is also the WISA chairman, said education acts as a “salutogen” — the opposite of a disease-causing pathogen — by supporting human health and well-being.
“Action to ensure students achieve graduation has more impact on health than the provision of medical services,” he said.
“Australian schools must develop, in young students, a strong wellbeing ethos, life practices and survival skills in the face of increasing and more complex student health and wellbeing needs.”
WISA chief executive Jac Van Velsen said stress was a big factor leading students to drop out of school.
“One in four students experiences violence at home, one in five goes to school hungry each week, one in six lives below the poverty line, and one in four students, in Years 4 to 9, is bullied,” she said. “No wonder 25 per cent of young people face serious mental health issues that can lead to them dropping out of school, and facing a lifetime of challenges and risks.”