Issues in Families and Health Research

By Grzywacz, Joseph G.; Ganong, Lawrence | Family Relations, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Issues in Families and Health Research


Grzywacz, Joseph G., Ganong, Lawrence, Family Relations


Health is a fundamental issue in family science. In its myriad manifestations, health is a pivotal criterion of family life. Indeed, some suggest that one of the primary purposes of family is to ensure the health and well-being of its members (Friedman, Bowden, & Jones, 2003). Health is also an important ingrethent in the basic recipe for effective family dynamics. The ability of families to meet their primary functions rests, at least in part, on the health of individual family members. For example, good physical or mental health enables parents to effectively monitor child behavior; conversely, the presence of chronic diseases such as autism or disorders like alcoholism in one or more family members can leave families disjointed and unable to perform even basic functions. Acute diseases also disrupt family patterns and can change the nature of family routines and relationships, as vividly illustrated by Radina (this issue). When health is viewed as a criterion, families and health research has substantial practical value. This research not only offers insight into concrete strategies for protecting and promoting health across the life span, but also provides a foundation for isolating and differentiating generative from detrimental aspects of family life. In essence, the products of research about families and health offer much promise for enhancing the human condition.

This special issue is designed to illustrate the scope and methods of current families and health research. The domain of families and health research spans multiple disciplines and lacks a neatly circumscribed "literature." Indeed, studies relevant to "families and health" can be found in journals outside of family science, including those devoted to family medicine, social work, psychology, nursing, demography, sociology, epidemiology, pediatrics, health behavior and community health, and an array of other disciplines. It is not possible to capture the complete scope of families and health research in a single special issue. As such, we have endeavored to provide a sampling of studies to illustrate the diversity of families and health research. The empirical resource guide for researchers and practitioners in this issue clearly illustrates this diversity (Proulx & Snyder). The other papers in this collection reflect the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods; speak to an array of health topics; emphasize both family structure and family process; and represent health as both outcome and predictor, sometime in the same investigation (Lee, Anderson, Horowitz, & August; Marshall & Tracy). These articles illustrate the complexity and sophistication of families and health research.

We need to acknowledge the substantial effort of countless reviewers in arriving at this final collection, and we want to express our gratitude to all of the researchers who submitted their work to this special issue. Regardless of the editorial outcome, which was frequently a difficult decision, we recognize the substantial energy and talent that went into each submitted manuscript. In the remainder of this note, we highlight additional conceptual issues needing further attention, as well as fruitful avenues for future research to systematically advance families and health research. The ideas presented below emerged from the process of editing this special issue and were reinforced by comments recently made by leading researchers during the Families and Health: New Directions in Research and Theory conference, organized by the National Center for Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development.

CONCEPTUAL ISSUES

"Health" Awaits Greater Conceptual Clarity

Health is a complex concept involving multiple dimensions and subdomains. At present, there are no agreed-upon conceptualizations of "health," apart perhaps from the World Health Organization's definition offered in 1949 that "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. …

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