Social capital and obesity among adults: Longitudinal findings from the Montreal neighborhood networks and healthy aging panel


Authors: Yun-Hsuan Wu, Spencer Moore and Laurette Dubé

Publication: Preventive Medicine, Forthcoming


Curbing the worldwide increase in obesity requires upstream social interventions that modify the environment in which obesity emerges. Recent studies have suggested that social capital and networks may influence a person's risk of obesity. Yet, few longitudinal studies have assessed whether social capital and networks reduce obesity risk in adult populations.

In this study, the data come from three waves (2008, 2010, and 2013) of the Montreal Neighborhood Networks and Health Aging Panel (N = 2606). Self-reported height and weight were used to calculate body mass index (BMI) with obesity defined as a BMI > 30. Name and position generator instruments captured network measures of social capital, including: (1) upper reachability, (2) range, (3) diversity and (4) the number of kin ties. Questions on generalized trust and participation were used to assess cognitive and structural dimensions of social capital. Separate random effects logistic regression was used to examine the association among social network characteristics, social capital, and obesity. We found the greater the number of kin ties in a person's network, the greater the risk of obesity (OR: 1.33, 95% CI: 1.08–1.62). Adults with higher network diversity (OR: 0.83, 95% CI: 0.72–0.96) and high generalized trust (OR: 0.52, 95% CI: 0.35–0.77) were at a lower the risk of obesity.

The current study confirmed that higher network capital and trust were protective against obesity, while having kin ties was not. Disentangling the multidimensional role that social capital plays can lead to more effective interventions to reduce obesity.

Read full article: Preventive Medicine