Background: This article presents an overview of the concept of social capital, reviews prospective multilevel analytic studies of the association between social capital and health, and discusses intervention strategies that enhance social capital.
Methods: We conducted a systematic search of published peer-reviewed literature on the PubMed database and categorized studies according to health outcome.
Results: We identified 13 articles that satisfied the inclusion criteria for the review. In general, both individual social capital and area/workplace social capital had positive effects on health outcomes, regardless of study design, setting, follow-up period, or type of health outcome. Prospective studies that used a multilevel approach were mainly conducted in Western countries. Although we identified some cross-sectional multilevel studies that were conducted in Asian countries, including Japan, no prospective studies have been conducted in Asia.
Conclusions: Prospective evidence from multilevel analytic studies of the effect of social capital on health is very limited at present. If epidemiologic findings on the association between social capital and health are to be put to practical use, we must gather additional evidence and explore the feasibility of interventions that build social capital as a means of promoting health.