Role of social connectedness in weight-related health behaviors: Implications for community health promotion programs
Over the past three decades overweight and obesity in the United States have reached epidemic proportions, spreading across the country. The purposes of this study were: to determine the role of social connectedness in weight-related behaviors and health status using secondary data collected from a mid-size community and to determine if social connectedness will be a significant predictor of specific weight-related behaviors. Data for this study was collected as part of a larger community assessment conducted by members of a local Healthy Communities Coalition to measure health knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of community members, particularly in the areas of healthy eating and physical activity. A total of 400 randomly-selected English speaking adults participated in a telephone interviewed questionnaire, following the Center for Disease Control BRFSS methodology. Correlations were run utilizing physical, residential, and social characteristics of the sample to find relationships with social connectedness, while linear regressions were conducted to determine if social connectedness was a predictor of perceived mental, physical, and overall health or any specific weight-related behaviors that might contribute to or prevent obesity. The study results revealed that many of the correlations and linear regressions were significant, but the majority of the relationships and predictions were weak. Variables identified as significant correlates to social connectedness include: White (non-Hispanic) race/ethnicity (p < 0.05), Black or African American race/ethnicity (p < 0.01), living within the primary zip code (p < 0.05), being married (p < 0.05), and higher social economic status (p < 0.01). Variables that could be significantly predicted by social connectedness were: preference for being physically active with a group versus alone (p < 0.05), days per week moderate activity was done for at least 10 minutes at a time (p < 0.05), and meeting the standard guidelines for vigorous physical activity (p < 0.05). In studying the relationship of social environments to health and well-being it is important to move beyond the individual and make a commitment to a more ecological approach. An increased emphasis on population and social determinants rather than characteristics of individuals needs to be explored further. When measuring social determinants among community members, including enough survey items to measure the variables under study, accounting for diversity in individual perspectives, and aggregating community data in such a way not to lose vital information must be considered.