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August 11, 2003

Illiterate and Poor in Brazil Have Lower Life Expectancy

Illiteracy rates and income disparities negatively affect life expectancy in Brazil, according to research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study results have implications for health policy planning in both developed and developing countries. The study, “Income Inequality, Illiteracy Rate, and Life Expectancy in Brazil,” appears in the August 2003 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.  

The study author, Erick Messias, MD, MPH, a doctoral candidate at the School of Public Health and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, said, “The study shows that the association between education and life expectancy is not restricted to the developed world, where the majority of these studies have been completed.”  

Dr. Messias explained that Brazil has one of the most uneven distributions of wealth in the world. He also said that the study shows that with this extreme income distribution there is still a gradient, showing the impact of these imbalances in the life expectancy of the population.  

Public data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics were used to assess associations in the Brazilian states and the federal capital, Brasilia. Life expectancy ranged from 63.16 years in Alagoas to 71.34 years in Santa Catarina. The illiteracy rate in Santa Catarina was 6.3 percent as compared to 33.4 percent in Alagoas. High gross domestic product per capita had a positive association with longer life expectancy. States in Northeast Brazil had the worst income distribution and illiteracy rate and the shortest life expectancy, demonstrating important regional variation across the country. 

Dr. Messias said, “Public health is influenced by several factors beyond the usual scope of medical research. Policymakers should consider socioeconomic determinants when thinking about the health of populations. Public policies to improve health should include education as increased education will impact health and life expectancy.”

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Brigham or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or