Family and Social Support

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People with greater social support, less isolation, and greater interpersonal trust live longer and healthier lives than those who are socially isolated. Neighborhoods richer in social capital provide residents with greater access to support and resources than those with less social capital.

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 associations1. Individual social support and cohesive, capital-rich communities help to protect physical and mental health and facilitate healthy behaviors and choices2.

Socially isolated individuals have an increased risk for poor health outcomes3. 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 adolescents2.

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 capital1. 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 capital1

Individuals with higher educational attainment and higher status jobs are more likely to have greater social support than those with less education and lower incomes4. 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 counterparts5-9.

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.


1 Kawachi IK, Bruce P, Glass R. Social capital and self-rated health: A contextual analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 1999; 89:1187-1193. 
2 Egerter S, Braveman P, Barclay C. Stress and health. Exploring the Social Determinants of Health Issue Brief No. 3. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2011. 
3 House JS. Social isolation kills, but how and why? Psychosomatic Medicine. 2001; 63:273-274.
4 Braveman P, Egerter S, Barclay C. What shapes health-related behaviors? Exploring the Social Determinants of Health Issue Brief No. 1. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2011. .
5 Fergusson DM, Boden JM, Horwood LJ. Exposure to single parenthood in childhood and later mental health, educational, economic, and criminal behavior outcomes. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2007; 64:1089-1095.
6 Wille N, Bettge S, Ravens-Sieberer U. Risk and protective factors for children's and adolescents' mental health: Results of the BELLA study. European Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2008; 17:133-147.
7 Rahkonen O, Laaksonen M, Karvonen S. The contribution of lone parenthood and economic difficulties to smoking. Social Science and Medicine. 2005; 61:211-216.
8 Ringbäck Weitoft G, Burström B, Rosén M. Premature mortality among lone fathers and childless men. Social Science and Medicine. 2004; 59:1449-1459.
9 Weitoft GR, Haglund B, Hjern A, Rosén M. Mortality, severe morbidity and injury among long-term lone mothers in Sweden. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2002; 31:573-580.


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