Social Relations, Health Behaviors, and Health Outcomes

A Survey and Synthesis

Social support is defined as the perception or experience of being loved, valued, and cared for by family, friends, or colleagues.

In this study, these authors survey and summarize the literature on social relations, social support, and health. Social relations can create negative, as well as positive associations with health, such as when an individual smokes because friends also smoke.

After reviewing 60 articles, they found the following relationships:

  • Healthy diet—social support was not predictive for healthy diet overall but was related to fruit and vegetable intake for adults.
  • Physical activity—social support from a buddy was helpful for increasing physical activity.
  • Smoking—social relations were protective against smoking but ineffective for quitting.
  • Alcohol—social support was inconsistently helpful in treatment.
  • Chronic illness self management—social relations varied by type of illness and at best was effective half the time for medical adherence.
  • Suicide/self-injury—presence of social relations in general were associated with lower incidence of suicide/self injury.
  • Mortality—lack of social relations was associated with a higher risk of mortality and incidence and progression of coronary heart disease.
  • Cancer—there was limited evidence of a relationship between social support and positive cancer outcomes.

This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.

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