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Social support is support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community that may influence a person’s ability to cope with a problem or to practice a behavior. Social support measures can be functional or structural. Structural measures describe the existence of social relationships (e.g., marital status) and social networks. Functional measures describe the actual function served by social network members, such as the provision of advice, care, or practical help. Functional social support can be categorized as emotional, informational, and instrumental/tangible. Functional measures can then reflect perceived adequacy of social support or actual social support received. Typically, functional measures of perceived social support are stronger predictors of health behavior and outcomes than structural measures of social support. For this reason, we include only functional measures in this toolkit.

Functional social support can be measured in general or specific to a health behavior or outcome.

  • General social support reflects overall well-being and is not specific to a health outcome.
  • Specific social support measures focus on supportive actions that are directly related to a specific behavior or outcome. While studies that measure behavior-specific social support have found stronger positive associations with health outcomes when compared to general social support measures, we include both types of measures here.

Social capital and social support are interrelated. Social capital reflects social relationships, networks, and values that facilitate collective action for mutual benefit and includes social support. Social capital has been associated with improved complementary feeding practices, and a measure is included in this toolkit.

Types of Measures

General Social Support

  • Duke–UNC Functional Social Support Scale (11 items)
  • Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) Social Support Survey (19 items)
  • Multidimensional Scale for Perceived Social Support (12 items)
  • Oslo Social Support Scale (3 items)

Caregiving-Specific Social Support

  • Social Support Index (12 items)
  • Family Support Scale (13 items)
  • Support in Household Chores and Perceived Instrumental Support (12 items)

Social Capital

  • Short Adapted Social Capital Assessment Tool (18 items)

This toolkit includes 8 measures.

Duke–UNC Functional Social Support Scale

NicaraguaTanzaniaUganda 8-11 items

Multidimensional, functional social support questionnaire that measures perceived support. The original scale by Broadhead et al 1998 was validated with 8 items that measure the quantity of confidant (having someone to share and discuss important matters in life) and affective (being shown love and caring) support.

Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) Social Support Survey

BrazilZimbabweJamaica 19 items

Multidimensional social support survey that assesses four functional social support domains (tangible, emotional/informational, affectionate, and positive social interaction) and also includes a question about the number of close friends and family.

Multidimensional Scale for Perceived Social Support

Pakistan 12 items

Distinguish perceived social support from three sources: family, friends, and significant others.

Oslo Social Support Scale

Pakistan 3 items

Assesses relationships with friends, family, and neighbors. Asks for the number of close confidants, the sense of concern from other people, and the relationship with neighbors, with a focus on the accessibility of practical help.

Social Support Index

Kenya 12 items

Assess the social support fathers and grandmothers provide to mothers. Fathers and grandmothers were asked about support provided, and mothers were asked about support received.

Family Support Scale

Indonesia 13 items

Family support was categorized into good (higher than the mean data) and poor (less than the mean data). Developed to reflect emotional, material, and informational support for complementary feeding.

Support in Household Chores and Perceived Instrumental Support

BangladeshEthiopiaViet Nam 12 items

This scale measured two aspects of social support: support in household chores and perceived instrumental support.

Short Adapted Social Capital Assessment Tool (SASCAT)

EthiopiaIndiaPeruViet NamMalawiPhilippines 18 items

Measures three aspects of structural social capital (membership of groups, involvement in citizenship activities, and social support from the community), as well as cognitive social capital (e.g., trust, social harmony, perceived fairness, and sense of belonging).