Why unhealthy children can’t keep up in class: New study looks at health, wealth and inequality

Schoolgirls in central Africa

Does a child's access to education affect its long-term health and economic prospects?

That's the question that a team of researchers at the University of Sussex are trying to answer in an 18-month study of children's education opportunities and corresponding health outcomes in Africa, India, Peru and Vietnam.

The Education researchers Dr Ricardo Sabates and Dr Mariachiara Di Cesare have been funded by the BUPA Foundation until July 2011 to address the gap in our knowledge left by existing research which, they say, has failed to recognise inequalities in educational access and its effects on child health.

In particular, they aim to investigate whether the differences in health outcomes among children are the result of differences in the children themselves or differences in their educational opportunities.  This project is based on the World Health Organisation Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. From the findings of this Commission, the BUPA Foundation issued a call for research projects, one of which was successfully won by Sussex.

The researchers are also investigating how access to good healthcare early in their lives can improve children's school attainment, performance and ultimately their future economic and cultural potential.  Project leader Ricardo Sabates said: "Our study suggests that in societies marked by large social and economic inequalities, access to health services as early as during pregnancy can influence the relationship between health and education.

"In other words, the consequences for the cognitive development of unhealthy infants are not as severe for children whose mothers received good anti-natal care. Our findings highlight the importance of early support, even from conception, to reduce health and educational inequalities."

Current research shows that sustained and meaningful access to education is critical to long term improvements in productivity, the reduction of inter-generational cycles of poverty, uptake of preventative health care and reductions in inequality.

There is also a reciprocal relationship between poor health and access to education, in particular on the long-term damage of stunting, nutrition, childhood disease and parasites, among other health problems.  This study is the first to focus entirely on the effects of variable access to education on the health of children.

The research team is studying data from the 'Young Lives' study, a long-term international research project investigating the changing nature of childhood poverty by tracking the lives of 12,000 children growing up in Africa, India, Peru and Vietnam over 15 years.

The team will release interim findings in December 2010. 

Notes for editors


For further information please contact Danielle Treanor, University of Sussex Press Office, M 07740099325 E danielle.treanor@sussex.ac.uk

Project web page: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/education/research/cie/rprojects/access

World Health Organisation study: http://www.who.int/social_determinants/en/ 


Last updated: Friday, 15 October 2010