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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Psychosocial risk factors in home and community settings and their associations with population health and health inequalities: A systematic meta-review

Matt Egan1*, Carol Tannahill2, Mark Petticrew3 and Sian Thomas4

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, G128RZ, UK

2 Glasgow Centre for Population Health, Level 6, 39 St Vincent Place Glasgow, G12ER, UK

3 Public and Environmental Health Research Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel St., London WC1E 7HT, UK

4 Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, G128RZ, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:239  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-239

Published: 16 July 2008

Abstract

Background

The effects of psychosocial risk factors on population health and health inequalities has featured prominently in epidemiological research literature as well as public health policy strategies. We have conducted a meta-review (a review of reviews) exploring how psychosocial factors may relate to population health in home and community settings.

Methods

Systematic review (QUORUM) of literature reviews (published in any language or country) on the health associations of psychosocial risk factors in community settings. The literature search included electronic and manual searches. Two reviewers appraised included reviews using criteria for assessing systematic reviews. Data from the more robust reviews were extracted, tabulated and synthesised.

Results

Thirty-one reviews met our inclusion criteria. These explored a variety of psychosocial factors including social support and networks, social capital, social cohesion, collective efficacy, participation in local organisations – and less favourable psychosocial risk factors such as demands, exposure to community violence or anti-social behaviour, exposure to discrimination, and stress related to acculturation to western society. Most of the reviews focused on associations between social networks/support and physical or mental health. We identified some evidence of favourable psychosocial environments associated with better health. Reviews also found evidence of unfavourable psychosocial risk factors linked to poorer health, particularly among socially disadvantaged groups. However, the more robust reviews each identified studies with inconclusive findings, as well as studies finding evidence of associations. We also identified some evidence of apparently favourable psychosocial risk factors associated with poorer health.

Conclusion

From the review literature we have synthesised, where associations have been identified, they generally support the view that favourable psychosocial environments go hand in hand with better health. Poor psychosocial environments may be health damaging and contribute to health inequalities. The evidence that underpins our understanding of these associations is of variable quality and consistency. Future research should seek to improve this evidence base, with more longitudinal analysis (and intervention evaluations) of the effects of apparently under-researched psychosocial factors such as control and participation within communities. Future policy interventions relevant to this field should be developed in partnership with researchers to enable a better understanding of psychosocial mechanisms and the effects of psychosocial interventions.