Health and well-being

Adult learners lead healthier lifestyles and experience improved well-being. The health of our societies depends upon lifelong learning.

There are considerable inequalities in health and consequently life expectancy. Even in the most equitable countries, this is the case. It is just that the gap is narrower. Health and education are linked: to take care of our health and well-being over our lifespan requires knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes developed throughout life. The health of our societies depends upon lifelong learning.

The social benefits of learning

Learning makes people more self-confident, self-efficacious and aware of their own capacities and skills, which translates to a greater ability to manage their own lives and health. Adult learning courses provide opportunities to bring people together in person and therefore strengthen their social networks, which is crucial for well-being. These benefits contribute not only to their personal development and fulfillment, but also have a very positive impact on their work life.

Health education has high outputs in terms of increased health level of the population and lower costs for public health systems, as well as financial revenues, as a healthier population works better and longer. Therefore, health education concerns everybody, not only on the recipients’ side (e.g. patients or learners), but also the providers’ side (e.g. health professionals, educational staff). It does not stand alone per se but is an issue that cuts across other policy fields and needs to be recognised as such.

Research evidence

UNESCO’s GRALE report has explored the many connections between education, health and well-being.  

The Third UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education notes that people with more education are more likely to have a greater understanding of their health, a better understanding of treatments available to them, and more skills to manage their health.

People with more education also report spending fewer days in bed and miss fewer days of work due to illness. International studies have linked education to determinants of health such as healthy behaviour and the use of preventive services. Better educated people are less likely to smoke, drink a lot or use illegal drugs. They are also more likely to exercise more, use seat belts in the car, get vaccinated and participate in screening programmes (GRALE, 2016).

Good practice

Austrian project trained health staff to understand how literacy impacts health. 

The Austrian Alpha-Power project (national winner of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2015) addressed health care workers from various health institutions. In specifically developed workshops, the awareness level of staff in care, medical-technical, medical and administration personnel was raised concerning the difficult (health) status of people with low basic education.

Besides this sensitisation of health professionals to the connection between basic education and health, further aims of the project were:

  • Development of information material for multipliers and a guide for recognition
  • Lowering barriers of access concerning the topic of health
  • Strengthening the health competences of persons with a low education level

In all cooperating institutions, health personnel of various professions were trained to become multipliers.

Research evidence

BeLL study has proven the connection between adult education and well-being.

Adult education is not only a complementary method to develop more knowledge but also a proactive approach in terms of empowerment and mental well-being. Adult education is a way for people to lead a more fulfilled and happier, thus healthier, life, as research shows. In the BeLL study, 84% of the respondents had experienced positive changes in mental well-being, and 83% had experienced positive changes in their sense of purpose in life when learning as adults.