Social ties have mixed impact on encouraging healthy behaviors in low-income areas

In low-income, minority communities, tight-knit social connections -- with family members, friends, and neighbors -- can lead people to eat healthy and be physically active, but in some cases it may actually be an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle, according to new research by investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health.

To account for this paradox, researchers theorize that for people made vulnerable by low income and poor access to services, the demands of social responsibilities -- being a single parent or caregiver to an ill or elderly relative, for example -- can deprive them of the time and energy to adopt good health habits, although further research is needed to verify that hypothesis, investigators say.

The study, to be presented on Apr. 13 at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in New Orleans, is one of a limited number to examine the impact of and support on healthy behavior in low-income, racial and ethnic minority areas. The abstract is published in the .

"It's well documented that social relationships can have a positive or negative impact on people's health habits, but little attention has been paid to this issue in low-income groups," says the study's lead author, Sara L. Tamers, PhD, MPH, of Dana-Farber and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). "Our findings raise the possibility that for this population, some of the constraints on a are social ones. If further research bears that out, programs to encourage healthier living will need to take these factors into account."

Data for the study was culled from the Health in Common (HIC) Study, which was conducted between 2005 and 2009 to examine cancer risks for racially and ethnically diverse, low-income people in the Greater Boston area. As part of the HIC, participants were asked the number of close friends, family members, and neighbors who provided support, and these data were tracked with participants' dietary and exercise habits.

The findings present a mixed picture of the benefits and potential downsides of social ties as they relate to a healthy lifestyle. People with many close friends, for example, tended to eat more servings of fruit and vegetables per day than those with fewer friends. On the other hand, people with strong relationships with many tended to consume more sugary drinks and fast food than others did.

" are critical for anyone's well-being," Tamers remarks. "But for people in difficult economic circumstances, those same relationships may be a burden that limits their ability to eat right and get enough exercise. More research is needed to determine if this is indeed the case -- and, if so, how we can tailor community health programs to these circumstances."

Provided by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A healthy teenager is a happy teenager

Mar 02, 2012

Teenagers who turn their backs on a healthy lifestyle and turn to drink, cigarettes and junk food are significantly unhappier than their healthier peers. New research also shows that 12-13 is a catalyst age when young people ...

An apple a day isn't enough

Jan 10, 2012

Adults from 30 to 60 years old, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, aren't consuming the daily recommended levels of fruits and vegetables. Quebecers, however, eat more of nature's produce than their fellow ...

Peer pressure can keep you healthy

Dec 06, 2010

Hanging out with healthy friends could be the best way to keep fit. A study of 3610 Australian women, published in BioMed Central's open access International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that p ...

Recommended for you

Gender inequalities in health: A matter of policies

1 hour ago

A new study of the European project SOPHIE has evaluated the relationship between the type of family policies and gender inequalities in health in Europe. The results show that countries with traditional family policies (central ...

A new mango drink enriched with antioxidants

1 hour ago

Researchers at the Universiti Teknologi MARA have enhanced the antioxidants present in mango fruit drink by adding the extracts of naturally occuring traditional herbs in Malaysia.

Breast milk reveals clues for health

2 hours ago

Evidence shows that breast-feeding is good for babies, boosting immunity and protecting them from a wide range of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, liver problems and cardiovascular disease.

User comments