Public Health Article

Effectiveness of social prescribing for chronic disease prevention in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Review Quality Rating: 10 (strong)

Citation: Htun HL, Teshale AB, Cumpston MS, Demos L, Ryan J, Owen A, et al. (2023). Effectiveness of social prescribing for chronic disease prevention in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

PubMed LinkOut


BACKGROUND: Social prescribing (SP) enables healthcare professionals to link patients with non-medical interventions available in the community to address underlying socioeconomic and behavioural determinants. We synthesised the evidence to understand the effectiveness of SP for chronic disease prevention.

METHODS: A systematic literature search was conducted using five databases and two registries. Eligible studies included randomised controlled trials of SP among community-dwelling adults recruited from primary care or community setting, investigating any chronic disease risk factors defined by the WHO (behavioural factors: smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol consumption; metabolic factors: raised blood pressure, overweight/obesity, hyperlipidaemia and hyperglycaemia). Random effect meta-analyses were performed at two time points: completion of intervention and follow-up after trial.

RESULTS: We identified nine reports from eight trials totalling 4621 participants. All studies evaluated SP exercise interventions which were highly heterogeneous regarding the content, duration, frequency and length of follow-up. Majority of studies had some concerns for risk of bias. Meta-analysis revealed that SP likely increased physical activity (completion: mean difference (MD) 21 min/week, 95% CI 3 to 39, I2=0%; follow-up =12 months: MD 19 min/week, 95% CI 8 to 29, I2=0%). However, SP may not improve markers of adiposity, blood pressure, glucose and serum lipid. There were no eligible studies that primarily target unhealthy diet, smoking and excessive alcohol drinking behaviours.

CONCLUSIONS: SP exercise interventions probably increased physical activity slightly; however, no benefits were observed for metabolic factors. Determining whether SP is effective in modifying the determinants of chronic diseases and promotes sustainable healthy behaviours is limited by the current evidence of quantification and uncertainty, warranting further rigorous studies.



Addiction/Substance Use, Adults (20-59 years), Behaviour Modification (e.g., provision of item/tool, incentives, goal setting), Cardiovascular Disease, Chronic Diseases, Community, Diabetes, Education / Awareness & Skill Development / Training, Health Care Setting, Meta-analysis, Obesity, Primary health care provider office (e.g., Public health nurse, dietitian, social worker), Seniors (60+ years), Smoking Cessation/Tobacco Use, Social Support (e.g., counseling, case management, outreach programs)

Register for free access to all Professional content