Cardiovascular risk factors and educational attainment in Southern Spain: A study of a random sample of 3091 adults

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Study objectiveTo analyze the associations between educational attainment and major cardiovascular disease risk factors in the Murcia Region (Southern Spain).DesignDuring 1992 we conducted a survey by interview, with multi-stage random sampling, representative of the general adult population. We calculated odds ratios (OR) and trends by logistic regression as a measure of the association between educational levels and cardiovascular risk factors, taking the university level as the reference category.ParticipantsA total of 1514 men and 1577 women aged between 18 and 65 years was included in the study. Rate of response to the questionnaire was 61%. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents provided a blood sample. A telephone survey on a representative sample of non-respondents (n = 347), showed no statistical differences in the level of studies.MeasurementsWe asked for educational level (highest schooling qualification completed), and according to the WHO MONICA protocol we measured: blood pressure, cigarette smoking, height, weight and total cholesterol, tryglicerides and HDL-cholesterol. We also obtained the leisure-time physical activity by a validated questionnaire.Main resultsIn a context of a low level of schooling, mainly among the older age groups, the prevalence of risk factors – except smoking in women – is higher in the lower educational levels. Systolic blood pressure tends slightly to increase as schooling level decreases (both genders, p < 0.02). Conversely, serum total cholesterol and triglycerides decrease with higher level of schooling in men. The high levels of HDL- cholesterol observed in all educational groups show no trend in both genders. Arterial hypertension in men and women and overweight in women tend to decrease with higher educational attainment. Moreover, higher level of education is associated with vigorous physical exercise in both genders and cigarette smoking in women. We observed the strongest significant magnitude association in non-schooling with hypertension in men (OR:1.82; 95% CI: 1.15, 2.89), in women (OR:2.39; 95% CI: 1.05, 5.44), and with overweight in women (OR: 3.22; 95% CI: 1.97, 5.27), meaning that compared to people at the university level, people without schooling showed two to three times higher prevalence of hypertension and overweight (only women). Also non-schooling obtained the lowest significant association with protective physical exercise for coronary heart disease in men (OR: 0.32; 95% CI: 0.18, 0.56) and in women (OR: 0.31; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.62) pointing out that people at the university level of education had three times the prevalence of vigorous physical activity than their non schoolarized counterparts.ConclusionsAfter adjusting for environmental factors, in our adult general population, educational attainment is inversely associated with arterial hypertension in both genders and with overweight in women, and directly associated with cigarette smoking in women and with leisure-time physical activity in both genders.

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