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Effectiveness of social prescribing for chronic disease prevention in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
  1. Htet Lin Htun1,
  2. Achamyeleh Birhanu Teshale1,
  3. Miranda S Cumpston1,
  4. Lisa Demos1,2,
  5. Joanne Ryan1,
  6. Alice Owen1,
  7. Rosanne Freak-Poli1,3
  1. 1 School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Australian Disease Management Association (ADMA), Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rosanne Freak-Poli, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; rosanne.freak-poli{at}


Background Social prescribing (SP) enables healthcare professionals to link patients with non-medical interventions available in the community to address underlying socioeconomic and behavioural determinants. We synthesised the evidence to understand the effectiveness of SP for chronic disease prevention.

Methods A systematic literature search was conducted using five databases and two registries. Eligible studies included randomised controlled trials of SP among community-dwelling adults recruited from primary care or community setting, investigating any chronic disease risk factors defined by the WHO (behavioural factors: smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol consumption; metabolic factors: raised blood pressure, overweight/obesity, hyperlipidaemia and hyperglycaemia). Random effect meta-analyses were performed at two time points: completion of intervention and follow-up after trial.

Results We identified nine reports from eight trials totalling 4621 participants. All studies evaluated SP exercise interventions which were highly heterogeneous regarding the content, duration, frequency and length of follow-up. Majority of studies had some concerns for risk of bias. Meta-analysis revealed that SP likely increased physical activity (completion: mean difference (MD) 21 min/week, 95% CI 3 to 39, I2=0%; follow-up ≤12 months: MD 19 min/week, 95% CI 8 to 29, I2=0%). However, SP may not improve markers of adiposity, blood pressure, glucose and serum lipid. There were no eligible studies that primarily target unhealthy diet, smoking and excessive alcohol drinking behaviours.

Conclusions SP exercise interventions probably increased physical activity slightly; however, no benefits were observed for metabolic factors. Determining whether SP is effective in modifying the determinants of chronic diseases and promotes sustainable healthy behaviours is limited by the current evidence of quantification and uncertainty, warranting further rigorous studies.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42022346687.


Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Twitter @danny_hlh, @AchamTeshale, @mirandacumpston, @DrJoRyan, @DrFreakPoli

  • Contributors HLH: identification and screening of records, data extraction, risk of bias assessment, formal analysis, investigation, validation, visualisation, data interpretation, writing—original draft, writing—review & editing, guarantor. ABT: screening of records, data extraction, risk of bias assessment, validation, writing—review & editing. MSC: investigation, data interpretation, validation, writing—review & editing. LD: writing—review & editing. JR: writing—review & editing. AO: supervision, writing—review & editing. RF-P: conceptualisation, supervision, data interpretation, writing—review & editing. All authors approved the final version for submission.

  • Funding HLH and ABT are supported by Monash International Tuition Scholarship and Monash Graduate Scholarship. None of the funders were involved in the design of the study, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and writing of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.