Socioeconomic status (SES) powerfully influences one's health.1 Considerable gaps exist, with childhood SES serving as an especially important factor in determining health throughout the lifespan.2, 3 The proposed research's broad objective is to understand how a family's social context-namely, the nature of the social network in which parents are embedded-relates to children's cardiovascular health. This question will be explored with a particular focus on lower SES families, whose children are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).4, 5 Past research has found that strong social support is associated with lower CVD risk (and other positive health outcomes).6 Here we suggest that when parents have effective social networks, children will be able to develop effective skills for coping with adversity, which will in turn, reduce their CVD risk. Specifically, the research tests the novel hypotheses that social networks that are (1) dense (i.e., a community where many people know each other and have a strong sense of obligation to assist others) and (2) provide more assistance than they require in return (i.e., so that they provide support, on balance, rather than draining already scarce resources) will be most effective at helping children develop effective coping skills and reduce children's CVD risk. Such networks'capacity to provide additional resources will be especially important in lower SES families, where resources are often lacking. If a child's parents have more social, emotional, and material resources from their networks, the child will be more likely to develop beliefs that, as previous research suggests, wil help to reduce their CVD risk. Such beliefs will be especially valuable for lower SES children, who are especially likely to encounter adversity. Since the proposed project aims to reduce CVD risk, particularly among those at the greatest risk (i.e., lower SES children), it pertains directl to NHLBI's mission of preventing heart disease. The proposed research will be part of a larger research project in which 250 families (parents and children) of a range of SES backgrounds will participate. In surveys administered at the beginning of the study and then each day over a two-week period, parents will report on the characteristics of their social networks and children will report on their beliefs and strategies for coping with adversity. In addition, a number of physiological health measures that assess risk for CVD will be administered to children.
This project will investigate how key characteristics of parents'social networks interact to predict children's decreased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly by allowing children to develop more effective skills for coping with adversity. Understanding these relationships will be especially important for reducing CVD among children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds because these children are (1) at particular risk for CVD, (2) in families that lack resources, which makes the resources from social networks especially valuable, and (3) especially likely to encounter adversity and therefore in greatest need of effective coping skills to reduce CVD risk.