Education and Health

Are you studying nutrition? Writing or researching the latest in healthcare policy? Exploring a career as a health educator? The resources on this page will help you understand that education is the foundation to building a healthy society and a developing strong public health workforce for the future.

Education and health are fundamentally intertwined, with far-reaching cognitive and physical benefits when advanced together, paying transformative dividends to children, families, and their communities.

Looking for questions to centre your research efforts or interesting issues or problems to explore? These research questions can help provide a path to a focused research and writing process.

  • How are education and health related?
  • How does investing in education save money in health costs?
  • How does education deliver transformative benefits for women and girls in particular?
  • How can education help to encourage healthy behaviors and prevent disease?
  • How are education and mental health mutually reinforcing?
  • How does education create more sustainable, healthier societies?
  • How can education help to address the shortage of healthcare workers?

Looking for clear topic sentences to express your opinion, or thesis statements to serve as the core of your essay? Theirworld’s examples can help to form the base of your argument.

Health and education are mutually reinforcing
  • Investing in health without investing in education is a non-starter
  • Education and nutrition are fundamentally linked, with far-reaching cognitive and physical health benefits when they are mutually advanced
  • Schools can serve as a base to deliver nutritional benefits for entire families
  • Schools providing mental health education yield high societal returns
  • Schools serve as a cornerstone of a community, providing a cost-effective point of delivery for Schools provide critical health and nutrition services, and safe, nurturing environments that offer children the stability and routine to grow emotionally, psychologically, and socially, ensuring that the most marginalised and vulnerable are looked after and supported
  • Children with good mental health are better able to learn and develop emotionally, and access to education in turn improves their mental health and sense of self
Women and girls
  • Investing in education in parallel to health delivers life-saving, transformative benefits for girls and women that are passed through generations
Skills and jobs
  • Without investments in education, there will be a severe shortage of health workers
  • Investing in education leads to lower health cost burdens on government budgets
  • Delivering health interventions for children in schools can be significantly more cost effective than alternative delivery approaches
  • Investing in education delivers impressive and lasting health returns to society
Disease and pandemic
  • Education is a cost-effective tool for the prevention and spread of disease
  • Investing in education can help to provide a roadmap to a rapid and robust recovery after public health crises

Seeking key messages, facts, and opinions to build your evidence base? Find the most up-to-date, pre-sourced data points to help you make a robust case for education and health here.


Disease and pandemic
  • School closures have economic costs. Without immediate remedial education when school resumes, some estimates suggest today’s cohort of post-pandemic learners could face a US$10 trillion loss in future earnings over the next generation. (World Bank, 2020)
  • For girls, being out of school increases the risk of child marriage, teen pregnancy, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and child labour. During the Ebola outbreak, teen pregnancies in certain parts of Sierra Leone increased by 65%, and child labour by girls increased 19% (UNDP, 2015) (UNICEF, 2021)
  • Pandemics can have severe immediate and long-lasting consequences for entire generations. COVID-19 disrupted the education of more than 1.6 billion, with an expected additional 10 million children — often girls and the most marginalised — expected to never return to school again. (Save the Children, 2020)
  • Malnutrition hinders a child’s ability to learn. Malnourished children are 19% less able to read at eight years old, and 13% less likely to be in the appropriate grade than well-nourished children. Providing school meals significantly increases school test scores. (Save the Children, 2013) (Frisvold, 2015) (Imberman & Kugler, 2014) provided — even for children with a primary education — with learning outcomes often the lowest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In low- and middle-income countries, only 18 of the poorest youth complete secondary school for every 100 of the richest youth. In at least 20 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, hardly any poor rural young women complete secondary school. (GEM, 2020) (UNICEF, 2015)
Skills and jobs
  • Without investments in education, there will be a severe shortage of health workers. Without increased investment in education, by 2030 there will be a shortage of 15 million health workers worldwide – double what it is today. (Liu et al., 2017)
Safe schools
  • A significant proportion of LGBTQ+ students experience homophobic and transphobic violence in school. This is shown consistently in data from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and the Pacific, with the proportion affected ranging from 16% in Nepal to 85% in the US. (UNESCO, 2016)
  • LGBTQ+ students report a higher prevalence of bullying at school than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. In New Zealand, lesbian, gay and bisexual students were three times more likely to be bullied than their heterosexual peers; in Norway, 15-48% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported being bullied compared to 7% of heterosexual students. (UNESCO, 2016)
  • LGBTQ+ students consistently report a higher prevalence of violence compared with their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Male students who fail to conform to ‘masculine’ norms – i.e. those who are gay or bisexual, and male-to-female transgender students – seem more likely to be the targets of violence. (UNESCO, 2016)
  • Hostile school climates impact on the educational attainment and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth. Students in hostile school environments are less likely to go to college and more likely to have self-esteem issues
  • Persistent stress and poor mental health can impact on children’s learning levels. Children experiencing stress and poor mental health are prone to disrupted brain development, with long-lasting consequences to their ability to learn and function as successful adults. (Ritchie & Roser, 2018) (Patton et al., 2016) (Shonkoff & Garner, 2012)


Women and girls
  • Girls who are educated and not married as children are healthier and pass those benefits to their children. Children born to mothers who are not child brides are 60% less likely to die in the first year of their life. (IWHC, 2020)
  • Better educated mothers have healthier children and families. If all mothers completed secondary school, the likelihood that their children will contract malaria would be 36% lower. (Brookings, 2016)
  • Educated mothers have healthier families. When a mother can read, her children are 50% more likely to live past the age of five, twice as likely to attend school, and 50% more likely to be immunized. (Education Cannot Wait, 2019)
  • Educating girls saves lives. If all women in India and Nigeria had completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate would have been 61% lower in India and 42% lower in Nigeria, saving 1.35 million children’s lives. (EFA GMR, 2013)
  • A little bit of education goes a long way during a pandemic. When schools closed in Sierra Leone due to Ebola, a one-hour daily class for girls in life skills, sexual and reproductive health, and vocational learning was enough to reduce by half the rate of drop outs from school post-crisis. (Bandiera et al., 2018)
  • An educated mother provides a wealth of life-saving health benefits to her child. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five, 50% more likely to be immunised, and twice as likely to attend school. (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2017)
  • Educating girls saves lives. Half of the reduction in under-five child mortality over nearly 40 years can be attributed to an increase in girls’ education. Educating girls has prevented the deaths of more than 30 million children under five and 100 million adults. (Gakidou et al., 2010) (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2016)
  • Educated women have a better understanding of healthy behaviour for themselves and for their children and are more likely to visit a healthcare professional for care. If all women completed primary education, maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa would fall by 70%. (UNICEF, 2015)  (EFA GMR, 2014)
  • Pairing education with complementary health care services in schools increases the benefits a mother’s education transfers to her child. Children in Ethiopia whose mother had attended a primary school coupled with access to antenatal care were 39% less likely to be stunted at the age of one than children with a mother who had attended a primary school with little or no access to antenatal care. (Sabates, 2013)
Boys’ education
  • Educated men are more likely to be healthier. Young men who had participated in group educational activities were more likely to be tested for HIV, seek medical care, be vaccinated, avoid contracting an STI, and use condoms. (ICRW, 2011) (Parker et al., 2017)
  • Schools are effective platforms for delivering critical knowledge and awareness to prevent sexual violence. A systemic review of 65 interventions to reduce boys’ use of sexual violence found 90% of interventions were school based, with most changing attitudes effectively. Participating students committed significantly less sexual and physical dating violence and were less likely to endorse rape myths compared with control groups. (Ricardo et al., 2011) (Foshee et al., 2004) (De La Rue et al., 2014)
Early childhood
  • Nurturing care interventions can mitigate the impact of poverty on brain development and early learning outcomes. A recent randomised controlled trial in Switzerland found that a biweekly home visit to the most deprived families led to a significant improvement in children’s adaptive behaviour, developmental status, and language skills, narrowing the learning gaps associated with poverty. (Schaub et al., 2019)
  • Missing out on nurturing care in the early years can lead to lower cognitive, language, and psychosocial outcomes. A study showed that 15-year-old immigrant youths who attended early childhood education on average scored 49 points higher in reading, equivalent to more than one year of school. (GEM, 2019)
  • Early childhood interventions lead to significant individual benefits later in life. In Jamaica, early childhood interventions in the cognitive and socioemotional development of stunted children aged 9-24 months old led to lower crime rates, better mental health, and 25% higher earnings 20 years later, compared to children not receiving any intervention during early childhood. (World Bank, 2018)
Disease and pandemic
  • A marginal increase in education yields tremendous decreases in pneumonia cases, the leading cause of child death worldwide. One additional year of maternal education reduces the pneumonia death rate by 14%, saving 160,000 child lives every year. (EFA GMR, 2014)
  • The child of an educated parent is more likely to access malaria prevention and treatment services and survive childhood. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo — where 20% of the world’s malaria-related deaths occur — the probability of using a bed net increased by 75% if the head of household had completed primary education. 50% of preventable school absenteeism in Africa can be attributed to malaria. (Ndjinga & Minakawa, 2010) (Malaria No More, 2020)
  • Education is a cost-effective tool for preventing HIV transmission, providing the knowledge to reduce the risk of infection. If all young adults completed primary education, there would be seven million fewer new cases of HIV per decade. Girls out of school are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those in school. Staying in secondary school can reduce HIV infection rates by as much as 60%. (Malala Fund, 2015) (Grepin & Bharadwaj, 2015) (De Neve et al., 2015)
  • Good health promotes learning. In developing countries an estimated 500 million days of school per year are lost due to sickness. (World Bank, 2018)
  • Education can save lives in the region. More than 3.5 million child deaths could be prevented in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 if all mothers had a lower-secondary education. (UNESCO, 2013)
  • Financial literacy improves health outcomes for young people. When combined with sexual and reproductive health education, financial education was found to have a positive effect on HIV knowledge and attitudes and risk taking behaviour in a systematic review of youth in low- and middle-income countries. (Lee et al., 2020)
  • Rural children who are educated are healthier. In rural South Africa, each additional year of education completed led to a 7% decrease in the probability of becoming infected with HIV. (Bärnighausen et al., 2007)
  • Girls’ education is vital to prevent the impaired development and growth that accompanies malnutrition. If all women completed primary education, 1.7 million fewer children would be affected with stunted growth. If all women completed secondary education, this number would rise to 11.9 million. In Bangladesh, the odds of a child being stunted were 54% lower when both parents had a primary education. (EFA GMR, 2014) (Semba et al., 2008)
  • Children of educated mothers are better nourished. A mother’s education furthers her child’s nutritional wellbeing, even after taking into account additional factors linked to better nutrition, such as breastfeeding practices, water and sanitation, and household wealth. (EFA GMR, 2014)
  • Schools can provide nutritional benefits for entire families. School meals provide nourishment that contributes to both learning and health outcomes for 310 million children in low- and middle-income countries daily, ensuring that children are not too hungry or malnourished to learn. In Uganda, school meals helped reduce anaemia in young girls by 20%. (WFP, 2019) (Adelman et al., 2019)
  • Using schools to distribute take-home meals boosts nutrition. Take-home rations can extend nutritional benefits to entire households, which has been proven to boost the nutritional status of younger family members. (Kazianga et al., 2014)
  • An educated mother is more likely to breastfeed, a key tool in the prevention of malnutrition. Exclusive breastfeeding provides children with all of the nutrition they need for healthy growth and brain development, while providing protection from respiratory infections, and diarrheal disease. It can also help to prevent obesity, and non-communicable diseases like diabetes, later in life. (Heck et al., 2006) (Acharya & Khanal, 2015)
  • Education helps to ensure a diverse and healthy diet that includes micronutrients — a vital component to proper nutrition and disease prevention. In Tanzania, children whose mothers had at least a secondary education were twice as likely to consume food rich in micronutrients in comparison to mothers with a primary education or less. Young children lacking key nutrients like vitamin A and iron are more likely to be malnourished and more prone to infections like measles, diarrhoea and anaemia, that affect their cognitive development. (EFA GMR, 2014)
  • Proper nutrition allows children to learn at the highest rates and realise their full economic potential. Children with good nutrition can increase their future wages by up to 50% and reduce the chance that they will experience poverty later in life by 33%. (Theirworld, 2020)
  • Investing in early childhood education and nutrition yields immense economic gains. Each US$1 invested in early childhood nutrition can generate up to US$18 in economic returns. Solving malnutrition could reap economic benefits 100 times as large as the interventions needed. Conversely, malnourished children who do not meet their developmental potential may forfeit up to a quarter of adult earnings, costing some low and middle-income countries twice their national expenditure on health. (Theirworld, 2020) (Save the Children, 2013)
  • Healthier and more nutritious school meals lead to higher learning. One study found healthier school meals could raise student achievement by about four percentile points on average. (Anderson, et. al, 2017) (Nutrition Policy Institute, 2017)
Social benefits
  • Education is a conduit for healing and creating healthy communities after crisis. Education can encourage resilience and help communities rebuild by healing some of the trauma and encouraging social cohesion, reconciliation and peacebuilding. (Nicolai, 2009) (Novelli and Smith, 2011)
Economic benefits
  • Investing in education delivers impressive and lasting health returns to society. Each US dollar invested in a one-year increase in schooling generates a health-inclusive benefit of US$10 in low-income countries. (Jamison & Schaferhoff, 2016)
Mental health
  • Better educated young people have better mental health. Adolescents with lower-secondary education are half as likely to experience problems related to mental health and depression than those with only a primary school education. (Ritchie & Roser, 2018) (Patton et al., 2016) (Shonkoff & Garner, 2012)
  • Schools serve as important community hubs to deliver critical mental health services. Schools can connect healthcare professionals, communities, teachers, parents and students. Particularly in resource-poor contexts, the lack of health facilities can mean that schools and teachers may be the only channels for children and families to obtain psychosocial support. (Vostanis, 2016) (Fazel and Betancourt, 2014) (Munz & Melcop, 2018)
  • School-based mental health education yields high returns. Every US dollar invested in social-emotional learning interventions in schools can yield a return of US$11. Normalising and prioritising mental health from an early age makes financial sense. Globally, depression and anxiety lead to 15 billion lost days of work every year, at an estimated annual cost of US$1.15 trillion. (Belfield et al., 2015) (Chisholm et al., 2016)
  • Mental health services from schools during crises prevent irreversible damage from ‘toxic stress’. Every US dollar invested in social emotional learning interventions in schools can yield a return of US$11. (Education Cannot Wait, 2019)
  • Education and psychosocial support are particularly helpful for children in emergencies. Approximately 24 million children living in conflict today could be experiencing high levels of stress and have mild to moderate mental health disorders needing an appropriate level of support. An additional seven million children are at risk of developing severe mental health disorders. (Save the Children, 2019)
Skills and jobs
  • Education’s spillover benefits save lives and promotes a healthy workforce. A healthy workforce contributes to a stable operating environment. Over the past four decades, the global increase in women’s education has prevented more than four million child deaths. If all children completed primary education, 700,000 cases of HIV/Aids could be prevented annually. (UN Global Compact, 2013)
  • It is important to remember the long-term horizon. In Jamaica, providing toddlers with psychosocial stimulation increased earnings by 25%, but these returns only materialised 20 years later. (World Bank 2019)
  • Social-emotional skills will be more important than ever in the 4IR. A person’s degree of self-control and motivation is associated with increased earnings. (Price, 2015)
  • Universal education and health interventions can have a direct impact on climate change. The resulting reductions in emissions globally could be as high as 85.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide between 2020 and 2050. (Project Drawdown, 2020)
  • Education saves lives. If universal upper-secondary was realised by 2030, 200,000 disaster-related deaths could be prevented in 20 years. If progress towards achieving education for all is halted, disaster-related deaths could increase by 20% per decade. (GEM, 2016)
  • Investments in early childhood education promote equity. Creating a level playing field from the beginning improves the chances for a fair start in life, reaping benefits to nutrition and health, cognitive development, and school achievement. (GBC-Education, 2018) (Black & Dewey, 2014) (Nonoyama-Tarumi et al., 2009)
  • Education provides food security during times of disruption. Around 350 million children worldwide (47% of them girls) depend on school meals as a source of their daily nutrition. (World Food Programme, 2020)
Teaching and learning
  • School is a critical place to disseminate important information about hygiene and public health. In a meta-review of 38 studies, all the studies that examined changes in knowledge, attitudes, and hygiene behaviours reported positive change among children, such as hand-washing with soap. (McMichael, 2019)
  • Restoring education as quickly as possible helps children rebound. Investment into education post-pandemic is especially important, given that children may lose more than a full year’s worth of learning from a three-month closure if no special remediation measures are taken. (Kaffenberger, 2020)
  • Good health promotes learning. In developing countries an estimated 500 million days of school per year are lost due to sickness. (World Bank, 2018)
  • Schools can serve as a stabilising force for refugee children, addressing social exclusion and mental health. Simply being in school can help refugee children’s psychosocial recovery, and school-based interventions can play a fundamental role in supporting children to deal with psychosocial transitions. (UNHCR, 2017) (Pastoor, 2016)
  • Teachers play a crucial role in supporting LGBTQ+ youth. LGBTQ+ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. (Trevor Project, 2019)
  • Education gives children hope. Quality education can build resilience, and nurture social and emotional development, restoring hope and providing opportunities and positive expectations for the future. (Nicolai, 2009) (INEE, 2010)
  • Schools equip children and youth who have experienced conflict or disruption with essential psychosocial support. Investment in education-based psychosocial support creates stable routines and opportunities for friendship and play, reduces stress, provides a sense of belonging, dignity and hope, encourages self-expression, and promotes collaborative behaviour, which are often undermined by migration or displacement. (UNESCO, 2010) (Masten et al., 2013) (INEE, 2019)
  • Schools deliver essential skills and tools to help students cope with trauma. Schools can help children deal with trauma through psychosocial support, through building self-confidence and emotional regulation skills, and fostering relationships based on trust. Syrian refugee students participating in school-based cognitive behavioural therapy demonstrated a significant decrease in anxiety, with symptoms of PTSD dropping by one-third. (Gormez et al., 2017) (Betancourt et al., 2013)
  • Schools are indispensable settings to champion the wellbeing of migrant and refugee students and families settling in a new community or country. Schools connect these children with the host culture, helping lay or rebuild a healthy social-emotional base to best prepare them for success. In Australia, school refugee wellbeing and transition committees have successfully helped families adjust to new learning environments and address psychosocial needs, while providing opportunities for the host communities to learn from a diversity of cultures. (UNESCO, 2019) (Foundation House, 2016)
  • Private philanthropy can have transformational societal change with an increased focus on education. Polio, smallpox, and hookworm have been eliminated or virtually eliminated largely due to philanthropic efforts. (Keiper, 2012)

Key opinions

Education and health go hand in hand. Children who have gone to school tend to have better health outcomes, can better access health services, including family planning and immunization, and have more earning potential. Schooling also helps to reduce violence, childhood marriage, and teen pregnancy. Education saves lives and improves livelihoods.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization
Kevin Watkins

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the biggest education emergency of our lifetime. Schools not only provide children with a space to learn. For many children, school also keeps them protected from harm - where they can be referred to child protection and mental health services. But with school closures, children are missing out on these essentials. The protection schools provide is particularly important for the most vulnerable children, such as children living in conflict-affected areas or refugees. These children are at risk of being recruited into armed groups; being forced to do hazardous and exploitative work; and being forced into marriage and early pregnancy.

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children
Martin Short

Education is a pathway out of poverty. But there are building blocks that remain vital to achieve the greatest impact from that Education. Besides the physical impairment and vulnerability, a stunted child has, on average, lower test scores on cognitive assessments and activity level. This will severely hamper his or her journey through the education system. Education and nutrition are two of the most pressing global issues today, and they are closely interlinked to the intergenerational cycles of poverty and gender inequality. Education, in and of itself, has an enormous positive impact on the disposable income of the family unit and therefore on the nutrition status of a household or a community. Good nutrition allows children to thrive and learn at school, which in turn triggers positive social and economic changes in countries and across generations. Education and nutrition are drivers for development and prosperity.

Martin Short, CEO of Power of Nutrition

Prefer an audio medium to better understand the connection between education and health? Listen to Theirworld’s Better Angels podcasts, featuring stories from globally renowned campaigners, Nobel Prize winners, celebrities, politicians and remarkable young people who are experts in the field.

UN Special #3: Tariq Al Gurg

Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares, the global philanthropic organisation, talks to Theirworld’s Chair Sarah Brown about how we can improve access to education for millions of children in developing countries, including health and sanitation programs which ensure children are fed and kept clean in the classroom, helping to persuade parents of the benefits of sending their children to school.

20th Anniversary Special: How do you Start a Charity?

Hear from from key figures from Theirworld’s early days who helped develop the charity’s commitment to supporting early years education and giving every child the best start in life, including Dr. Taha Khan, and Dr. Ian Laing.

More episodes here

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