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Involvement in civil society groups: Is it good for your health?
  1. A M Ziersch,
  2. F E Baum
  1. Department of Public Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A Ziersch
 Department of Public Health, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001, Australia;


Study objective: To determine the involvement in civil society groups (CSGs) and the impact of this on health.

Design: Case study, cross sectional, self completion questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews.

Setting: Residents in two suburbs in Adelaide, South Australia.

Participants: Every household (1038) received a questionnaire asking the adult with the next birthday to complete it. A total of 530 questionnaires were returned. Sixteen questionnaire respondents were also interviewed.

Main results: 279 (53%) questionnaire respondents had been involved in a CSG in the past 12 months, 190 (36%) in locally based CSGs, and 188 (35%) in CSGs outside the area. Eleven of the 16 interviewees had been involved in a CSG. A path analysis examined the relation between demographic variables, CSG involvement, and mental and physical health, as measured by the SF-12. Physical health was negatively associated with CSG involvement and older age, and positively associated with working full time or part time and higher education level. Mental health was positively associated with older age, working full time or part time, and higher income but negatively associated with having a child under 18, speaking a language other than English and higher education level. Very few interviewees made a direct link between CSGs and positive individual health outcomes, though some positive community level outcomes were noted. More consistent were reports of the detrimental effects of CSG involvement on mental and physical health.

Conclusions: Involvement in CSGs was significant but not always positive for health. It is possible that CSG involvement is good for a community but not necessarily for the individual.

  • social capital
  • civil society groups
  • health determinants
  • CSG, civil society group
  • PLS, partial least squares

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  • * In the text latent variable names are written in small capitals.

  • This hypothetical model posits a sequential relation between variables such that the effect of a variable on all other variables that come after it can be considered. This means that two way relations between variables cannot be considered.

  • The outer model relations for the demographic and civil society group variables were almost identical for both the physical health and mental health analyses, with only very minor variations in weights and loadings (at the second decimal place) and all overall relations remained the same. Therefore only the outer model for physical health is reported here.

  • § These suggestions were raised in informal interactions with a number of residents and community development workers in the area.

  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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