An epidemiological study of social relationships as determinants of health : formulating a new psychosocial approach
Background & objectives: There is an extensive body of literature suggesting that social relationships are beneficial for health. The present study explores this association by testing two hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that people who are more socially orientated have better health than those who are less socially orientated. The second hypothesis has two parts the first part is that people who have strong altruistic and collectivistic orientations have better health than those with less strong altruistic and collectivistic orientations the second part is that altruistic and collectivistic orientations relate directly to health over and above the potentially mediating effect of social relationships on them. The main idea of the study is to introduce an integrated epidemiological model of the association between sociability and health which will include not only social relationships but also their determinants such as collectivism and altruism.;Methods: The study instrument measures health, social relationships, individualism, collectivism and altruism and was addressed to a sample of 926 people above 40 years old of both sexes in Greece. The main health outcomes of the study are self-reported mental and general health. The statistical analysis encompasses descriptive statistics, bivariate analysis, factor analysis, multivariate linear regression modeling and structural equation modeling.;Results: Through factor analysis three individualism-related, three collectivism-related and four altruism-related factors emerged. The multivariate analysis shows that most of the collectivism- and altruism-related factors associate with social relationships and two of them (Volunteering and Horizontal Collectivism) with both health outcomes. Also it suggests that friendships associate with general health and family relationships with mental health and that the associations of Horizontal Collectivism with general health and Volunteering with mental health are over and above social relationships. The structural equation models show that the proposed conceptual model is valid.;Discussion: Both hypotheses should partially be accepted there is indication that people who are more socially orientated have better health some of the determinants of social relationships associate significantly with health and in some cases these associations hold even over and above social relationships.