Karen Riddell J.D.

Friendship, An Observation

More Evidence That Connection Wards Off Cancer

New research shows the impact of family size on health.

Posted Nov 08, 2018

John-Mark Smith/Unsplash
Source: John-Mark Smith/Unsplash

A recent study found that members of families with a greater number of children have a lower chance of getting cancer than those from smaller families. And the impact was even greater when the researchers took into account extended family that enlarged the overall size of the household.

Evolutionary medicine researchers reached these conclusions by analyzing family size and disease incidence data from 178 countries. They found that a significant link to lower cancer rates exists regardless of income, urbanization, and age.

These findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence showing that interpersonal connection wards off mental and physical disease. Positive emotional environments and stronger emotional bonds lead to increased longevity. Moreover, living in a group promotes preventive health as members encourage regular health screenings, better nutrition, more exercise, and less risky behavior. 

If you are not one of many siblings, part of a large extended family or part of a family that delivers all those positive attributes, don’t let this study discourage you. There is extensive research that shows that being part of one or more social groups can have comparable positive effects on health and longevity. The key takeaway is that being connected to others brings well-being, while being isolated and lonely places you in a precarious health position. 

One interesting aspect of the study was that the impact of larger family units was greater for men than women. This could be in part because men typically garner a large percentage of their social support from their marriage and family. Women, on the other hand, tend to receive extensive additional social support from their friendships and social networks. The conclusion for all is that positive social support from friends and family brings better health.


Y. Wenpeng, F.J. Ruhli, R.J. Henneberg & M. Henneberg, Greater family size is associated with less cancer risk: an ecological analysis of 178 countries. BMC Cancer, 18, 924

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