Heart attack risk doubled among early school leavers

16 December 2016

Our study found that in adults aged 45-64 years, heart attack rates among those with no educational qualifications were more than double those of people with a university degree.

Australians who leave school without a school certificate are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as those with a university degree, new research led by ANU scientists has found.

Researchers investigated the links between education and cardiovascular disease events such as a heart attack or stroke, by following about 260,000 people in the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study for over five years.

Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia, with an average of one Australian dying every 27 minutes.

Lead researcher Dr Rosemary Korda from ANU said early school leavers who did not study at university were more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke.

"Our study found that in adults aged 45-64 years, heart attack rates among those with no educational qualifications were more than double those of people with a university degree. The risk was around two-thirds higher among those with non-university qualifications," said Dr Korda from the Research School of Population Health at ANU. 

"Mid-age adults who hadn't completed high school were 50 per cent more likely to have a stroke than those with a university degree; those with non-university qualifications were 20 per cent more likely."

Dr Korda said a similar pattern of inequality existed between household income and heart disease events.

"What these differences in cardiovascular disease rates between more and less disadvantaged groups show us is just how much cardiovascular disease in the population can be prevented," she said.

"The Cardiovascular Disease Inequalities Partnership Project is continuing research in this area to better understand what is driving these socioeconomic differences. They are likely to at least partly reflect differences in the cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, and possibly differences in use of preventative medications such as blood pressure lowering drugs."

Professor Emily Banks, Head of Epidemiology for Policy and Practice at ANU and Scientific Director of the 45 and Up Study, said the research showed the inequalities in heart disease were worse than previously thought by health experts.

"This research also provides important clues about how much cardiovascular disease can be prevented," she said.

The research is published in the International Journal for Equity in Health.