Background: Frailty represents a body-wide set of a linked deterioration that occurs with ageing, but is susceptible to active intervention and is reversible. The concept of frailty should include broader environmental factors. A quantitative measure of frailty, the frailty index (FI), developed for elderly Canadians and shown to be valid for an elderly Chinese population, was examined for its association with socioeconomic, lifestyle, and social support network factors in an elderly Chinese cohort. Objective: 2,032 people aged 70 years and over recruited by stratified random sampling of the population were surveyed in 1990–1991, and information obtained regarding physical and functional health, psychological factors, lifestyle, socioeconomic and social support factors. The FI was constructed from 62 variables covering cognitive, psychological and physical health, and tested for association with socioeconomic, lifestyle and social support factors using ANOVA and t test. Results: The mean FI for women was higher than for men (0.16 ± 0.08, n = 1,033 vs. 0.13 ± 0.08, n = 999, p < 0.001, t test). For men, increasing frailty was observed with non-white collar occupations, inadequate expenses, no or little exercise, abstinence from alcohol, few relatives or neighbours and no or infrequent participation in helping others. For women, little contact with relatives (rather than number of relatives), and absence of participation in community/religious activities were additional factors. Conclusion: FI is influenced by social and environmental factors in keeping with the concept of frailty being multi-dimensional. Such a quantitative measure may be a useful indicator of the health of elderly populations as well as for public health measures to combat frailty.

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