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EcologyVolume 2 Issue 3 Family
MattersA Family Perspective
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Health CareA Family Impact Seminar Newsletter for Wisconsin PolicymakersFamilies Are Key to
Curbing Health Care Costs
Because families have a powerful effect on individuals’ wellbeing, research shows that a family-centered approach to
health care may help curb rising health care costs. According
to University of Minnesota Professor William Doherty, “the
family is the hidden agent of health activity in the United
States.”1 For example, studies indicate that seven illness
episodes are treated at home for every one that requires
professional attention.2 Thus, targeting policy and practice to
support families in this pivotal role could provide a powerful
and cost-effective means of preventive health care.
How can understanding family involvement really make a
difference for individuals’ health and illness? Researchers
increasingly recognize families’ important roles in influencing
lifestyle factors and as gatekeepers to the health care system.
From prevention to long-term care, families both influence
and are influenced by the health of their individual members.
Doherty divides families’ experiences in the health and illness
cycle into five major roles (see Figure 1):
1. Families can help promote health and reduce the
risk of illness.
Family members influence each others’ health habits. Eating and
exercise routines are learned at home, as are patterns of substance
use or abuse. For example, while teens are more likely to smoke
if a parent does, Doherty’s research finds that family stress is an
even stronger predictor of teen smoking habits. Families can also
provide support for changing unhealthy behavior. In cases where
diet or exercise patterns need adjusting, involving family members
in treatment can significantly improve long term…

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