Does being socially vulnerable make our health more vulnerable?


* This is a guest blogpost by Isabel Iguacel. Isabel is a psychologist, nurse, economist and PhD student at the University of Zaragoza, Spain. She is the lead author of our recently published paper “Social vulnerability as a predictor of physical activity and screen time in European children“. You can contact her directly on twitter! (@Isabel_Iguacel)



Does being socially vulnerable make our health more vulnerable?

It is difficult to answer when someone asks me what I have studied. Well… I studied Economics, and Nursing and Psychology and… well now I am studying Medicine… I know… it sounds weird, but I have always been interested in two areas (health and another area more related to social matters and the economy) that have more in common than it seems at first sight. So when I started my PhD I wanted to do something that mixed all of these fields. I had a simple image on my mind. In this image there is a doctor telling someone that looks ill. “I am sorry to tell you that you suffer from a fatal disease… you are poor”. This image could sum up the investigations that we carried out these years. Our research inquiry could be: Being socially vulnerable makes our health more vulnerable? People with low socioeconomic status (SES) are more prone to illnesses than people with high SES.  Education, occupation and income have been widely used as indicators of SES. However, other social vulnerability indicators such as lack of social support, migrant status, one-parent families or unemployment and the association with different health outcomes have been less explored in the literature.

Particularly we have assessed the association between social vulnerabilities with 1) psychosocial problems, 2) dietary patterns, 3) levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviours and 4) obesity and the accumulation of these vulnerabilities in health outcomes. The results included a cohort of more than 6,000 children of eight European countries. Particularly, children whose parents lacked a social network were at a higher risk of having psychosocial problems, unhealthy dietary patterns, higher levels of sedentarism and higher levels of obesity. Migrant children were also at higher risk of being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy dietary pattern and having higher levels of sedentarism. Children living in one-parent families are also at a higher risk of reporting psychosocial problems and finally, children with unemployed parents had also higher levels of screen time. All vulnerable groups were less likely to be sports club members. These associations remained significant after adjusting for occupation, education and income.

The results of our papers have showed that the lower an individual’s SES, the worse their health. Among all the social vulnerabilities that we have analysed, our findings suggest that the lack of a social support in parents contributes the most to unhealthy behaviours and poorer health.

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