Delhi, Jan 6: In a first of its kind study, researchers have shown that there is a clear link between social relationships and certain key measures of health like obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure. The less social relationships a person has the more these key measures get skewed, and this leads to long term health effects including heart disease, stroke and cancer.
There has been considerable research in the past two decades on the link between social life and health status but this study by scientists from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US, and Renmin University, Beijing establishes the link between measurable indicators. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active,” said Kathleen Mullan Harris, professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Specifically, the team found that the sheer size of a person’s social network was important for health in early and late adulthood. In adolescence, that is, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity while social integration protected against abdominal obesity. In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension.
In middle adulthood, it wasn’t the number of social connections that mattered, but what those connections provided in terms of social support or strain. “The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters,” Harris said.
Harris and her team drew on data from four nationally representative surveys of the US population that, together, covered the lifespan from adolescence to old age. They evaluated three dimensions of social relationships: social integration, social support and social strain. They then studied how individual’s social relationships were associated with four markers shown to be key markers for mortality risk: blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and circulating levels of C-reactive protein, which is a measure of systemic inflammation.
One of the four nationally representative surveys was part of The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, or Add Health, the largest, most comprehensive data researchers use to study how social relationships, behavior, environment and biology interact to shape health in adolescence and influence well-being throughout adulthood.
“We studied the interplay between social relationships, behavioural factors and physiological dysregulation that, over time, lead to chronic diseases of aging—cancer being a prominent example,” Yang Claire Yang, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, CPC fellow and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Centre. “Our analysis makes it clear that doctors, clinicians, and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives.”
2015 Kashmir Despatch