To date, it has been unclear if spending more time in education and educational activities has any impact on heart disease - in other words, whether increasing education might prevent it.
To better understand the nature of this association and help inform public policy, a statement from University College London said that a team of international researchers from UCL, the University of Lausanne, and the University of Oxford set out to test whether education is a risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease.
Many studies have found that people who spend more time in education have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease. However, the statement added that, this association may be due to confounding from other factors, such as diet or physical activity.
The researchers analysed 162 genetic variants already shown to be linked with years of schooling from 543,733 men and women, predominantly of European origin, using a technique called mendelian randomisation.
More specifically, 3.6 years of additional education, which is similar to an undergraduate university degree, would be predicted to translate into about a one third reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.
"We were really excited by this discovery - education could be just as important in causing heart disease, as things like blood pressure and cholesterol. For over fifty years, doctors and public health experts have made huge progress in getting people to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol. This has prevented millions of heart attacks. Our study opens up a completely new angle in the fight against eradicating heart disease: that we should think about also helping people stay in education for longer," Dr Taavi Tillman (UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health) said.
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