United we thrive: friendship and subsequent physical, behavioural and psychosocial health in older adults (an outcome-wide longitudinal approach).

TitleUnited we thrive: friendship and subsequent physical, behavioural and psychosocial health in older adults (an outcome-wide longitudinal approach).
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsKim, ES, Chopik, WJ, Chen, Y, Wilkinson, R, VanderWeele, TJ
JournalEpidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences
ISSN Number2045-7979
KeywordsAged, Aging, Friends, Humans, Interpersonal Relations, Prospective Studies

AIMS: Three factors converge to underscore the heightened importance of evaluating the potential health/well-being effects of friendships in older adulthood. First, policymakers, scientists, and the public alike are recognizing the importance of social relationships for health/well-being and creating national policies to promote social connection. Second, many populations are rapidly aging throughout the world. Third, we currently face what some call a 'friendship recession'. Although, growing research documents associations between friendship with better health and well-being, friendship can also have a 'dark side' and can potentially promote negative outcomes. To better capture friendship's potential heterogeneous effects, we took an outcome-wide analytic approach.

METHODS: We analysed data from 12,998 participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) - a prospective and nationally representative cohort of U.S. adults aged >50, and, evaluated if increases in friendship strength (between ; 2006/2008 and ; 2010/2012) were associated with better health/well-being across 35 outcomes (in ; 2014/2016). To assess friendship strength, we leveraged all available friendship items in HRS and created a composite 'friendship score' that assessed the following three domains: (1) friendship network size, (2) friendship network contact frequency and (3) friendship network quality.

RESULTS: Stronger friendships were associated with better outcomes on some indicators of physical health (e.g. reduced risk of mortality), health behaviours (e.g. increased physical activity) and nearly all psychosocial indicators (e.g. higher positive affect and mastery, as well as lower negative affect and risk of depression). Friendship was also associated with increased likelihood of smoking and heavy drinking (although the latter association with heavy drinking did not reach conventional levels of statistical significance).

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that stronger friendships can have a dual impact on health and well-being. While stronger friendships appear to mainly promote a range of health and well-being outcomes, stronger friendships might also promote negative outcomes. Additional research is needed, and any future friendship interventions and policies that aim to enhance outcomes should focus on how to amplify positive outcomes while mitigating harmful ones.

Citation Key13639
PubMed ID37964589
PubMed Central IDPMC10689060
Grant ListU01 AG009740 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States