Model for incorporating social context in health behavior interventions: applications for cancer prevention for working-class, multiethnic populations

Prev Med. 2003 Sep;37(3):188-97. doi: 10.1016/s0091-7435(03)00111-7.


Background: This article proposes a conceptual framework for addressing social contextual factors in cancer prevention interventions, and describes work that operationalizes this model in interventions for working class, multiethnic populations.

Methods: The Harvard Cancer Prevention Program Project Includes Three Studies: (1) an intervention study in 25 small businesses; (2) an intervention study in 10 health centers; and (3) a computer simulation modeling project that translates risk factor modifications into gains in life expectancy and number of cancers averted. The conceptual framework guiding this work articulates pathways by which social context may influence health behaviors, and is used to frame the interventions and guide evaluation design.

Results: Social contextual factors cut across multiple levels of influence, and include individual factors (e.g., material circumstances, psychosocial factors), interpersonal factors (e.g., social ties, roles/responsibilities, social norms), organizational factors (e.g., work organization, access to health care), and neighborhood/community factors (e.g., safety, access to grocery stores). Social context is shaped by sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., social class, race/ethnicity, gender, age, language) that impact day-to-day realities.

Conclusions: By illuminating the pathways by which social contextual factors influence health behaviors, it will be possible to enhance the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing social inequalities in risk behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Health Behavior* / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design
  • Sociology