Though highly educated men and women are generally healthier, what happens in childhood and beyond is key to our well-being later in life, says the study led by Dr. Tarani Chandola, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London (UCL).
And his report found no evidence that better health among more highly educated adults is linked to high intelligence as a child.
The study argues that policies on reducing inequalities in health should be aimed at specific areas such as people's working conditions or enabling healthy lifestyles, rather than directly at education.
Dr Chandola said: "Education affects health throughout our lifetime. For instance, children with poor health end up less well educated and with poorer health as grown-ups."
He continued: "Higher education also affects a person's sense of control as well as their chances of getting a better, well paid job. This in turn encourages them to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours."
Links between education and health have been found consistently in various studies around the world. These show that people with limited education have poorer health, more disability and greater chances of death.
For the UCL study, social science statistical methods, rarely used in this area of research, enabled investigators to estimate the direct and indirect effects of a combination of factors thought to link education and health.
The report says that being well in childhood is important for men and women, as apart from the direct effects on adult health, illness in a child has an indirect effect if it limits his or her education.
Men's adult social class indirectly affects their health when it comes to adopting healthy behaviours such as not smoking, exerc
Contact: Becky Gammon
Economic & Social Research Council