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The Role of Social Relations in Health Promotion

Berkman, Lisa F. PhD

Special Issue: Superhighways for Disease

In considering new paradigms for the prevention and treatment of disease and disability, we need to incorporate ways to promote social support and develop family and community strengths and abilities into our interventions.There is now a substantial body of evidence that indicates that the extent to which social relationships are strong and supportive is related to the health of individuals who live within such social contexts. A review of population-based research on mortality risk over the last 20 years indicates that people who are isolated are at increased mortality risk from a number of causes. More recent studies indicate that social support is particularly related to survival postmyocardial infarction. The pathways that lead from such socioenvironmental exposures to poor health outcomes are likely to be multiple and include behavioral mechanisms and more direct physiologic pathways related to neuroendocrine or immunologic function. For social support to be health promoting, it must provide both a sense of belonging and intimacy and must help people to be more competent and self-efficacious. Acknowledging that health promotion rests on the shoulders not only of individuals but also of their families and communities means that we must commit resources over the next decade to designing, testing, and implementing interventions in this area.

From the Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Address reprint requests to: Dr. Lisa Berkman, Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, 60 College Street, New Haven, CT 06520.

Received for publication June 21, 1994; revision received November 21, 1994

Copyright © 1995 by American Psychosomatic Society
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