For people in low-income, minority communities, the demands created by tight-knit social connections — such as being a single parent or caregiver to an ill or elderly relative — can deprive them of the time and energy to adopt good health habits, according to new research.
“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,” said the study’s lead author, Sara L. Tamers, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
“Our findings raise the possibility that for this population, some of the constraints on a healthy lifestyle 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, 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 that study, participants were asked the number of close friends, family members, and neighbors who provided support, as well as their 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, researchers said. 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 family members tended to consume more sugary drinks and fast food than others did.
“Social relationships are critical for anyone’s well-being,” Tamers said. “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.”
The study, presented April 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 social ties and support on healthy behavior in low-income, racial and ethnic minority areas.
The abstract is published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Source: Harvard School of Public Health