Family structure and health, how companionship acts as a buffer against ill health

Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2007 Nov 23;5:61. doi: 10.1186/1477-7525-5-61.


Background: Health and well-being are the result of synergistic interactions among a variety of determinants. Family structure and composition are social determinants that may also affect health behaviours and outcomes. This study was performed to examine the associations between family structure and health and to determine the protective effects of support mechanisms to improve quality of health outcome.

Methods: Six hundred people, selected by multistage sampling to obtain a representative population of men and women aged 20-60 living in communities in Japan, were included in this study. Data regarding subjective views of one's own health, family structure, lifestyle and social support were collected through structured face-to-face interviews on home visits. Systolic and diastolic blood pressures, height and weight were measured by trained examiners. The associations between family structure and health after controlling for demographics, lifestyle and social support were examined using logistic and linear regression analyses.

Results: Subjects living alone were significantly more likely to be in ill health, as determined using the General Health Questionnaire, in comparison to those in extended families (OR = 3.14). Subjects living alone or as couples were significantly more likely to suffer from severe hypertension in comparison to those living in extended families (OR = 8.25, OR = 4.90). These associations remained after controlling for the influence of lifestyle. Subjects living only with spouse or in nuclear family had higher probabilities of mental ill health in the absence than in the presence of people showing concern for their well-being.

Conclusion: The results of this study infers that a support mechanism consisting of companionship and the presence of family or other people concerned for one's well being acts as a buffer against deleterious influence of living in small family that will lead to improved quality of health outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Family / psychology
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / psychology
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Japan
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychology, Social
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Single Person / psychology
  • Social Support*