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Private school or Russell Group university ‘may lead to better health’

Factors such as smaller class sizes and more activities at private schools, plus better job prospects, may influence health in midlife, experts say.

Children who go to private school or a Russell Group university may have better health in mid-life, research suggests.

A new study found that, by age 46, those who went to private school were more likely to be a healthy weight, have lower blood pressure and perform better on one cognitive task than those who went to state schools.

Meanwhile, people who went to a Russell Group university – which includes Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol, Warwick, University College London and York – performed better on memory tests such as recalling words and naming animals, and tests designed to check attention and visual abilities.

For example, attending private school was linked with a 14% lower body mass index than people in state schools, while attending a Russell Group university was linked to a 16% better memory recall and 10% better naming ability.

The researchers said the findings back up previous studies, which have found a link between education and good health.

They suggested several factors may explain the results, such as smaller class sizes and more activities at private schools; better job prospects leading to more money and improved health; peers at private schools and higher-level universities potentially displaying healthier behaviours; and more experienced teachers and high-achieving peers influencing people’s health throughout their life.

The team, including from University College London, concluded that after adjusting for factors such as whether parents had degrees and were involved in their child’s education, “private school attendance was associated with better cardiometabolic outcomes than comprehensive school attendance.

“After being fully adjusted, attending higher-status universities was associated with better cognitive function, while having no degree was linked to poorer health compared with normal status university attendance.”

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, included 8,107 people born in 1970, of whom 570 attended private school and 554 went to a Russell Group university.

The authors said the study was observational and things such as the influence of family income can be hard to fully capture.

Children in the study also went to school in the 1980s and 1990s amid significant reforms in the UK education system, they said.

The authors said: “The generalisability of the results to the present day remains unclear, especially given the changes in the education system in recent years.”

They added: “Our findings suggest that the type of education could potentially contribute to understanding the links between education and health. Moreover, if this association is causal, future policies aimed at reducing health inequalities could take education quality into account as well as attainment.

“This is particularly important given the increases in university attendance, in which other aspects of the education experience may better distinguish health inequality.”

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