Connecting social environment variables to the onset of major specific health outcomes

Psychol Health. 2014;29(7):753-67. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2014.884221. Epub 2014 Feb 17.


Objective: The present research examined the effects of the social environment on the onset of specific health ailments.

Design: Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we examined participants' responses to social environment questions in 2006 as predictors of onset of different health conditions over the next four years.

Main outcome measures: Healthy participants (n = 7514) reported on their number of social partners, interaction frequency, positive social support and negative social support with respect to both their family and friends. These variables were used to predict onset of seven conditions in 2010: high blood pressure, heart condition, lung disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and arthritis.

Results: Logistic regressions indicated that the social environment provided some predictive value for onset of most health outcomes, with more positive and less negative social support appearing to buffer against onset. Social environmental variables related to friendships appeared to play a greater role than the family indicators. However, no variable proved universally adaptive, and social indicators had little value in predicting onset of chronic conditions.

Conclusion: The current findings point to the potential for the social environment to influence later health, while demonstrating the nuanced role that our social lives play with respect to health.

Keywords: ailment onset; social environment; social network size; social support.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthritis / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Social Determinants of Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Support
  • Stroke / epidemiology