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Social capital interventions targeting older people and their impact on health: a systematic review
  1. Laura Coll-Planas1,2,
  2. Fredrica Nyqvist3,
  3. Teresa Puig2,4,
  4. Gerard Urrútia2,5,
  5. Ivan Solà2,5,
  6. Rosa Monteserín2,6
  1. 1Fundació Salut i Envelliment (Foundation on Health and Ageing), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  2. 2Institute of Biomedical Research (IIB Sant Pau), Barcelona, Spain
  3. 3Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies, Social Policy, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland
  4. 4Servicio de Epidemiología Clínica y Salud Pública, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  5. 5CIBER de Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP), Madrid, Spain
  6. 6Equip d'Atenció Primària Sardenya, EAP Sardenya, Barcelona, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Dr Laura Coll-Planas, Fundació Salut i Envelliment UAB, Casa Convalescència UAB, C/ Sant Antoni M. Claret 171, 4a planta Barcelona 08041, Spain; laura.coll{at}


Background Observational studies show that social capital is a protective health factor. Therefore, we aim to assess the currently unclear health impact of social capital interventions targeting older adults.

Methods We conducted a systematic review based on a logic model. Studies published between January 1980 and July 2015 were retrieved from MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Web of Science. We included randomised controlled trials targeting participants over 60 years old and focused on social capital or its components (eg, social support and social participation). The comparison group should not promote social capital. We assessed risk of bias and impact on health outcomes and use of health-related resources applying a procedure from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) based on vote-counting and standardised decision rules. The review protocol was registered in PROSPERO (reference number CRD42014015362).

Results We examined 17 341 abstracts and included 73 papers reporting 36 trials. Trials were clinically and methodologically diverse and reported positive effects in different contexts, populations and interventions across multiple subjective and objective measures. According to sufficiently reported outcomes, social capital interventions showed mixed effects on quality of life, well-being and self-perceived health and were generally ineffective on loneliness, mood and mortality. Eight trials with high quality showed favourable impacts on overall, mental and physical health, mortality and use of health-related resources.

Conclusions Our review highlights the lack of evidence and the diversity among trials, while supporting the potential of social capital interventions to reach comprehensive health effects in older adults.


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  • Twitter Follow Laura Coll-Planas at @EstudiAequalis and Rosa Monteserín at @rmonteserin

  • Contributors LC-P, RM and FN searched for, screened and selected studies. IS searched for studies. LC-P, RM and FN extracted data. LC-P, RM and FN conducted the analysis. All authors interpreted the analysis, drafted the final manuscript, and read and approved the final version. LC-P is the guarantor.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All data used for the review are available from the authors.