Higher levels of education promote health by helping people avoid many environmental health risks, but this benefit may not extend equally to all races and ethnicities when it comes to second-hand smoke, a US study suggests.
Overall, higher education was associated with lower odds of secondhand smoke exposure at work, but the protective effect was smaller for black and Hispanic people, in particular, compared with whites, researchers report in the Journal of Medical Research and Innovation.
“Historically, the assumption has been that education is the solution to health disparities, but the angle that is overlooked is that other resources don’t similarly promote health and wellbeing,” said Shervin Assari of the Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, who led the study.
Financial capital, family networks and community resources play a major role as well, he said.
“Your location in society shapes how much you gain. At the top of society, if you get a good education and have a lot of connections, you’ll get a good job,” he told Reuters Health by phone. “If you’re at the bottom and a get a good education but lack a strong social network, you likely won’t get great employment simply from education. Plus, the labour market discriminates.”
As a result, highly educated blacks and Hispanic people are more likely to work in lower-quality jobs, which increases their exposure to environmental factors such as secondhand smoke, the study team writes.
To examine this question, Assari and colleagues analysed data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, which included a sample of nearly 16,000 employed adults. The average age of participants was 43, and they had an average of 16 years of education.
Overall, higher educational attainment was associated with lower odds of any secondhand smoke exposure at work and of daily exposure.