Powerlessness, empowerment, and health: implications for health promotion programs

Am J Health Promot. 1992 Jan-Feb;6(3):197-205. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-6.3.197.


PURPOSE AND SCOPE. This article reviews the health and social science research relevant to both the role of powerlessness as a risk factor for disease, and the role of empowerment as a health-enhancing strategy. The research literature surveyed includes studies that address these key concepts from the fields of social epidemiology, occupational health, stress research, social psychology, community psychology, social support and networks, community competence and community organizing. Definitions are provided to operationalize these sometimes loosely-applied terms. IMPORTANT FINDINGS. Powerlessness, or lack of control over destiny, emerges as a broad-based risk factor for disease. Empowerment, though more difficult to evaluate, can also be demonstrated as an important promoter of health. MAJOR CONCLUSIONS. Given the importance and currency of these concepts of powerlessness and empowerment, a model of empowerment education is proposed for health-promotion practitioners. Measurement of empowerment raises issues for researchers on how to test the multiple personal and community changes that may result from an empowering education intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior
  • Health Education*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Psychology, Social
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control