Kouvonen et al, 2012

With four of the same personnel as the Väänänen research team, this study used data drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Since 2002, this panel survey has assayed the health and social habits of a representative sample of Englishmen and women aged 50 and over. In 2004–5 and 2008–9 (waves 2 and 4), a nurse visited respondents and took various measurements including waist circumference. The research team sought to determine whether this dependent variable (as an indicator of obesity) was affected by respondents’ social behaviours. The sample was comprised of 4,280 participants (2,373 women and 1,907 men) with complete data in waves 2 and 4. Logistic regression was used to determine whether social participation at baseline predicted waist circumference at follow-up (in two groups, according to whether they met or exceeded recommended baseline waist measurements). Gender-stratified models adjusted for age, ethnicity, marital status, total wealth, longstanding limiting illness, depressive symptoms, smoking status and physical activity. Interestingly, the discussion highlighted the ethnic homogeneity of the sample.

No association was found between social participation and waistline measurement in women. By contrast, those men with an initial waist measurement in the recommended range who participated in education, arts or music groups or evening classes and in charitable associations were more likely to maintain their waist circumference, while social participation showed no association with meeting recommended waist measurements for those with a waistline that exceeded the recommended range at baseline. As before, the possibility was acknowledged that obesity might determine participation, that social participation may be comprised of, or encourage, physical activity or that it may be a proxy for a healthier lifestyle and better access to information and resources.

The significance of this study to the present analysis is that it unites the main Finnish and Swedish work in an English context. Referencing Bygren et al and Lennartson and Silverstein, this work acknowledges the possible impact of arts and cultural attendance upon the HPA axis in particular and upon health, longevity and psychological wellbeing in general. However, despite the claim that ‘the study differentiates between different forms of participation’ (p. 262), no analysis was made of the specificities of arts engagement.

Anne Kouvonen, Judy Anne Swift, Mia Stafford, Tom Cox, Jussi Vahtera, Ari Väänänen, Tarja Heponiemi, Roberto De Vogli, Amanda Griffiths and Mika Kivimäki, ‘Social Participation and Maintaining Recommended Waist Circumference: Prospective Evidence From the English Longitudinal Study of Aging’, Journal of Aging and Health, 24, no. 2, 2012, pp. 250–68.

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