Researchers examined data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007-2012, and found adults with a college degree who were physically active were 6 percent less likely to have pre-diabetic symptoms or elevated blood sugar levels than those who weren’t active.
For adults who only had some college, a high school diploma or who never finished high school, being physically active reduced the risk of pre-diabetic symptoms by just 1 percent.
Overall, being physically active reduced the risk for full-blown diabetes, but this, too, varied by education level. The likelihood of having diabetes was 2.5 percent among college graduates who were physically active and 4.4 percent among those who were inactive. Rates among adults who didn’t finish high school were 5 percent among the active and 7.2 percent among the inactive.
“Essentially those with a college degree or more education are benefiting more from the positive health behavior of physical activity than other groups. That’s going to create more inequality in the future,” study author Kyle Chapman, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Kansas, said in a university news release.
The study was presented Aug. 24 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago. Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The study supports previous findings that better-educated people have greater access to resources that promote healthy living, such as gym memberships or homes in neighborhoods that encourage walking.
The results could offer a starting point for discussion about how to prevent and manage diabetes among all Americans.
“This is real, and if we continue down this road, we’re going to be helping the college educated more than we’re helping the less educated. The less educated are the people who actually need it more,” Chapman said.