Privately educated children are healthier in later life than those who go to state schools, according to new research.
The study shows that former private school pupils are more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI) by the time they reach middle age, and also spend less time watching television and eat fewer takeaway meals.
Experts analysed the health of more than 8,400 42-year-old men and women, according to the type of secondary school and university they attended.
On average participants who attended comprehensive schools had BMIs that were 1.8 points higher than their privately schooled counterparts, enough to move someone from normal to overweight.
Findings were similar for students who attended prestigious ‘Russell Group’ universities, compared with graduates of other higher education institutions.
Associations between elite education and health benefits remained even when taking into account background, childhood health, cognitive ability and whether a university degree was obtained.
Study lead author Dr David Bann, of UCL Institute of Education, said: “These findings are further evidence of the importance of the education system to the nation’s health.
“There are a number of possible explanations for our findings. For example, private schools often have more resources to put into extracurricular activities than the state sector.
“This may help pupils develop healthy habits that benefit them later in life.
“Private education is also linked to higher adult earnings, which could be used to cover the costs of a healthy diet and exercise.”
The findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, that the inequalities in weight only emerged later in life, but there were no differences when the participants were still in education.
Researchers say that the type of school or university attended might be important for adult health, while previous research has shown that low educational attainment is linked to later health problems.
Dr Bann added: “Our findings should be interpreted carefully as they do not prove that the school environment itself caused differences in adult health.
“However, given continued concerns about school funding and the selling-off of state school playing fields, our research suggests there might be long-term health benefits of improving recreational as well as academic opportunities for pupils.
“To reduce health inequalities among future generations, policymakers will likely need to address inequalities in our education system.”
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