The influence of social support on health and quality of life has been well documented. There is less evidence on whether health status affects social support, and little is known about longitudinal relationships between social support and health in early adulthood. This study investigates these associations using both concurrent and time-lagged measures at 5 time-points over 12 years during early adulthood.
A population-based cohort of 9,758 young women from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health was used. Women were aged 22–27 in 2000 and 35–39 in 2012. The General Health subscale of the SF-36 and the MOS Social Support Survey 6-item Scale were used, with scores standardised to a range of 0–100. Longitudinal tobit models were used, because both social support and general health data were left skewed, with marked ceiling effects. All models were adjusted for status of the outcome of interest at the immediately previous survey.
With both concurrent and time-lagged measures, there was a statistically significant difference in mean general health scores across social support quintiles after adjusting for demographic and behavioural covariates: lower general health was associated with lower social support. In reverse, social support mean scores were also significantly different across general health quintiles in both concurrent and time-lagged fully adjusted models.
Social support is significantly associated with both current and subsequent general health in early adulthood. The significance of the reverse associations indicates that the two mutually influence each other. This study highlights the importance of social support as a health-related quality of life issue.