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Social capital interventions in public health: moving towards why social capital matters for health
  1. Tim R Wind1,
  2. Ester Villalonga-Olives2
  1. 1 Research Department, Arq Psychotrauma Expert Group, Diemen, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Pharmaceutical Health Services Research Department, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ester Villalonga-Olives, Pharmaceutical Health Services Research Department, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA; ester.villalonga{at}gmail.com

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Social capital is defined as the resources—for example, the exchange of favours, the maintenance of group norms, the stocks of trust and the exercise of sanctions—available to members of social groups. A social group can take different forms, such as a workplace, a voluntary organisation, or a tightly knit residential community.1 2 Scholars have assumed that high stocks of social capital exert their effect on health outcomes in a multilevel fashion as it provides both individuals and communities with the resources to deal with adversities, which in turn is salutary for individual health outcomes.3–5 Therefore, scholars and policy makers need to consider social capital as a starting point to improve individual health outcomes. Although a multilevel social capital intervention can be problematic to design, costly and difficult to implement, it may involve greater success affecting the environment of a whole group.

In this editorial, we first summarise the status quo of research on social capital interventions in public health. Second, we highlight that researchers have generally approached social capital from a somewhat simplistic and binary assumption that social capital is either beneficial or has no effect. We postulate that research may advance by empirically answering the question why and how social capital is related to health outcomes, as this question has been largely left unanswered.

Social capital intervention framework

We recently performed a systematic review in which we classified manuscripts developing social capital interventions with an emphasis on improving health outcomes. Yet, despite enthusiasm of policy makers for decades to implement social capital interventions, in this review we could only include 17 papers that analysed the effect of social capital interventions on health outcomes.1

In this systematic review, we developed a framework to distinguish between individual level, community level and multilevel social capital interventions and to investigate if in those interventions …

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