The association between family and community social capital and health risk behaviours in young people: An integrative review

Kerri E. McPherson, Susan Kerr, Antony Morgan, Elizabeth McGee, Francine M. Cheater, Jennifer McLean, James Egan

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    Health risk behaviours known to result in poorer outcomes in adulthood are generally established in late childhood and adolescence. These ‘risky’ behaviours include smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use and sexual risk taking. While the role of social capital in the establishment of health risk behaviours in young people has been explored, to date, no attempt has been made to consolidate the evidence in the form of a review. Thus, this integrative review was undertaken to identify and synthesise research findings on the role and impact of family and community social capital on health risk behaviours in young people and provide a consolidated evidence base to inform multi-sectorial policy and practice.

    Key electronic databases were searched (i.e. ASSIA, CINAHL, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, Embase, Medline, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts) for relevant studies and this was complemented by hand searching. Inclusion/exclusion criteria were applied and data was extracted from the included studies. Heterogeneity in study design and the outcomes assessed precluded meta-analysis/meta-synthesis; the results are therefore presented in narrative form.

    Thirty-four papers satisfied the review inclusion criteria; most were cross-sectional surveys. The majority of the studies were conducted in North America (n=25), with three being conducted in the UK. Sample sizes ranged from 61 to 98,340. The synthesised evidence demonstrates that social capital is an important construct for understanding the establishment of health risk behaviours in young people. The different elements of family and community social capital varied in terms of their saliency within each behavioural domain, with positive parent–child relations, parental monitoring, religiosity and school quality being particularly important in reducing risk.

    This review is the first to systematically synthesise research findings about the association between social capital and health risk behaviours in young people. While providing evidence that may inform the development of interventions framed around social capital, the review also highlights key areas where further research is required to provide a fuller account of the nature and role of social capital in influencing the uptake of health risk behaviours.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number971
    JournalBMC Public Health
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2013


    • Family social capital
    • Community social capital
    • Children
    • Adolescents
    • Health risk behaviours
    • Wellbeing
    • Health

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