Wide Educational Disparities in Young Adult Cardiovascular Health

Elizabeth M. Lawrence, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Robert A. Hummer, University of North Carolina
Benjamin W. Domingue, Stanford University
Kathleen Mullan Harris, University of North Carolina


Widening educational differences in overall health and recent stagnation in cardiovascular disease mortality rates highlight the critical need to describe and understand educational disparities in cardiovascular health (CVH) among U.S. young adults. We use two data sets representative of the U.S. population to examine educational disparities in CVH among young adults (24–34) coming of age in the 21st century: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2005–2010; N= 689) and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (2007–2008; N=11,200). We employ descriptive statistics and regression analysis. The results show that fewer than one in four young adults had good CVH (at least 5 out of 7 ideal cardiovascular indicators). Young adults who had not attained a college degree demonstrate particularly disadvantaged CVH compared with their college-educated peers. Such educational disparities persist after accounting for a range of confounders, including individuals’ genetic propensity to develop coronary artery disease. The results indicate that the CVH of today’s young adults is troubling and especially compromised for individuals with lower levels of educational attainment. These results generate substantial concern about the future CVH of the US population, particularly for young adults with a low level of education.