Association of Educational Attainment With Lifetime Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study

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Abstract

Importance

Estimates of lifetime risk may help raise awareness of the extent to which educational inequalities are associated with risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Objective

To estimate lifetime risks of CVD according to categories of educational attainment.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Participants were followed from 1987 through December 31, 2013. All CVD events (coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke) were confirmed by physician review and International Classification of Diseases codes. A total of 13 948 whites and African Americans who were 45 to 64 years old and free of CVD at baseline were included from 4 US communities (Washington County, Maryland; Forsyth County, North Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; and suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota). The data analysis was performed from June 7 to August 31, 2016.

Exposures

Educational attainment.

Main Outcomes and Measures

We used a life table approach to estimate lifetime risks of CVD from age 45 through 85 years according to educational attainment. We adjusted for competing risks of death from underlying causes other than CVD.

Results

The sample of 13 948 participants was 56% female and 27% African American. During 269 210 person-years of follow-up, we documented 4512 CVD events and 2401 non-CVD deaths. Educational attainment displayed an inverse dose-response relation with cumulative risk of CVD, which became evident in middle age, with the most striking gap between those not completing vs completing high school. In men, lifetime risks of CVD were 59.0% (95% CI, 54.0%-64.1%) for grade school, 52.5% (95% CI, 47.7%-56.8%) for high school education without graduation, 50.9% (95% CI, 47.3%-53.9%) for high school graduation, 47.2% (95% CI, 41.5%-52.5%) for vocational school, 46.4% (95% CI, 42.8%-49.6%) for college with or without graduation, and 42.2% (95% CI, 36.6%-47.0%) for graduate/professional school; in women, 50.8% (95% CI, 45.7%-55.8%), 49.3% (95% CI, 45.1%-53.1%), 36.3% (95% CI, 33.4%-39.1%), 32.2% (95% CI, 26.0%-37.3%), 32.8% (95% CI, 29.1%-35.9%), and 28.0% (95% CI, 21.9%-33.3%), respectively. Educational attainment was inversely associated with CVD even within categories of family income, income change, occupation, or parental educational level.

Conclusions and Relevance

More than 1 in 2 individuals with less than high school education had a lifetime CVD event. Educational attainment was inversely associated with the lifetime risk of CVD, regardless of other important socioeconomic characteristics. Our findings emphasize the need for further efforts to reduce CVD inequalities related to educational disparities.

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