Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Social capital, health behaviours and health: a population-based associational study

Tarja Nieminen1*, Ritva Prättälä1, Tuija Martelin1, Tommi Härkänen1, Markku T Hyyppä2, Erkki Alanen1 and Seppo Koskinen1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health, Functional Capacity and Welfare, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki, Finland

2 Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Turku, Finland

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:613  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-613

Published: 27 June 2013



Social capital is associated with health behaviours and health. Our objective was to explore how different dimensions of social capital and health-related behaviours are associated, and whether health behaviours mediate this association between social capital and self-rated health and psychological well-being.


We used data from the Health 2000 Survey (n=8028) of the adult population in Finland. The response rate varied between 87% (interview) and 77% (the last self-administered questionnaire). Due to item non-response, missing values were replaced using multiple imputation. The associations between three dimensions of social capital (social support, social participation and networks, trust and reciprocity) and five health behaviours (smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, vegetable consumption, sleep) were examined by using logistic regression and controlling for age, gender, education, income and living arrangements. The possible mediating role of health behaviours in the association between social capital and self-rated health and psychological well-being was also analysed with a logistic regression model.


Social participation and networks were associated with all of the health behaviours. High levels of trust and reciprocity were associated with non-smoking and adequate duration of sleep, and high levels of social support with adequate duration of sleep and daily consumption of vegetables. Social support and trust and reciprocity were independently associated with self-rated health and psychological well-being. Part of the association between social participation and networks and health was explained by physical activity.


Irrespective of their social status, people with higher levels of social capital – especially in terms of social participation and networks – engage in healthier behaviours and feel healthier both physically and psychologically.

Individual-level social capital; Social support; Social participation; Trust; Health behaviours; Self-rated health; Psychological well-being