Educated, middle-aged people with new conditions are more willing to get healthy.

Many studies done on high blood pressure prescribe patients with the condition to change their lifestyle. Healthy diets, avoiding salt, getting exercise, quitting smoking are some of the best ways to prevent and control hypertension. The question is whether people are actually willing or able to make that change when they find out they have hypertension or any other medical condition?

In an article published in the latest edition of the American Sociological Association’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Rachel Margolis, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario, has studied the topic.

In her research, Margolis found that “better-educated middle-aged Americans are less likely to smoke and more apt to be physically active than their less-educated peers. They are also more inclined to make healthy changes ― in general and in the face of new medical conditions ― and adhere to them.”

Even though many health habits are supposedly set by the time people are middle-aged, Margolis found that “health behavior changes are surprisingly common between ages 50 and 75, and the fact that better-educated middle-aged people are more likely to stop smoking, start physical activity, and maintain both of these behaviors over time has important health ramifications.”

For her study, “Educational Differences in Healthy Behavior Changes and Adherence Among Middle-aged Americans,” Margolis analyzed more than 16,600, 50-75 year-olds who had participated in the 1992-2010 Health and Retirement Study (HRS). She found that “having more education increased the odds that a person made a healthy behavior change when faced with a new chronic health condition. This finding helps explain why there are educational differences in chronic disease management and health outcomes.”

Margolis said that a possible explanation as to why well-educated smokers, for example, in their 50s are more likely to quit than those in their 60s and early 70s is that the longer people expect to live when they get sick, the more likely they are to make a healthy behavior change.

She suggests that in order to improve overall population health “practitioners and policymakers can take better advantage of the fact that people from all educational backgrounds are more inclined to make healthy changes at the point of diagnosis and focus on encouraging healthy changes at that time.”

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