Why Is Family and Social Support Important to Health?
Social support stems from relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Social capital refers to the features of society that facilitate cooperation for mutual benefit, such as interpersonal trust and civic associations . Individual social support and cohesive, capital-rich communities help to protect physical and mental health and facilitate healthy behaviors and choices .
Socially isolated individuals have an increased risk for poor health outcomes . Individuals who lack adequate social support are particularly vulnerable to the effects of stress, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease and unhealthy behaviors such as overeating and smoking in adults, and obesity in children and adolescents .
Residents of neighborhoods with low social capital are more likely to rate their health status as fair or poor than residents of neighborhoods with more social capital , and may be more likely to suffer anxiety and depression . Neighborhoods with lower social capital may be more prone to violence than those with more social capital and often have limited community resources and role models. Socially isolated individuals are more likely to be concentrated in communities with limited social capital .
Individuals with higher educational attainment and higher status jobs are more likely to have greater social support than those with less education and lower incomes . Adults and children in single-parent households, often at-risk for social isolation, have an increased risk for illness, mental health problems and mortality, and are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors than their counterparts [6-10].
Adopting and implementing policies and programs that support relationships between individuals and across entire communities can benefit health. The greatest health improvements may be made by emphasizing efforts to support disadvantaged families and neighborhoods, where small improvements can have the greatest impacts.
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