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Does greater individual social capital improve the management of hypertension? Cross-national analysis of 61 229 individuals in 21 countries


Introduction Social capital, characterised by trust, reciprocity and cooperation, is positively associated with a number of health outcomes. We test the hypothesis that among hypertensive individuals, those with greater social capital are more likely to have their hypertension detected, treated and controlled.

Methods Cross-sectional data from 21 countries in the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiology study were collected covering 61 229 hypertensive individuals aged 35–70 years, their households and the 656 communities in which they live. Outcomes include whether hypertensive participants have their condition detected, treated and/or controlled. Multivariate statistical models adjusting for community fixed effects were used to assess the associations of three social capital measures: (1) membership of any social organisation, (2) trust in other people and (3) trust in organisations, stratified into high-income and low-income country samples.

Results In low-income countries, membership of any social organisation was associated with a 3% greater likelihood of having one’s hypertension detected and controlled, while greater trust in organisations significantly increased the likelihood of detection by 4%. These associations were not observed among participants in high-income countries.

Conclusion Although the observed associations are modest, some aspects of social capital are associated with better management of hypertension in low-income countries where health systems are often weak. Given that hypertension affects millions in these countries, even modest gains at all points along the treatment pathway could improve management for many, and translate into the prevention of thousands of cardiovascular events each year.

  • hypertension
  • health economics
  • epidemiology
  • control strategies
  • health systems

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