The importance of economic, social and cultural capital in understanding health inequalities: using a Bourdieu-based approach in research on physical and mental health perceptions.
OBJECTIVE Population studies demonstrate that attending cultural events is conducive to improved health when baseline health, income, education, and health habits are taken into account. Animal experiments suggest possible mechanisms. We studied the link in humans between attending cultural events and health in a randomized controlled trial. METHODS Members of the local government officers' union in the health services in Umeå, Sweden, were invited to the experiment and 101 people registered for fine arts visits once a week for 8 weeks. They chose films, concerts, or art exhibitions visits, or singing in a choir and were then randomized into 51 cases, starting at once, and 50 controls starting after the trial. Health was assessed before randomization and after the experimental period using the instrument for perceived health, short form (SF)-36, and tests of episodic memory, saliva-cortisol and immunoglobulin. The results were analyzed using a mixed design analysis of variance. RESULTS The SF-36 Composite Score called physical health improved in the intervention group and decreased among controls during the experiment (F(1,87) = 7.06, p = .009). The individual factor of the SF-36 called social functioning, improved more in the intervention group than among controls (F(1,98) = 8.11, p = .005) as well as the factor vitality (F(1,98) = 5.26, p = .024). The six other factors and the Mental Health Composite Score, episodic memory, cortisol and immunoglobulin levels did not change otherwise than among controls. Mechanisms are left to be identified. CONCLUSION Fine arts stimulations improved perceived physical health, social functioning, and vitality.