222727 Homophily and health behavior in social networks of older adults

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jason Flatt, MPH, CHES , Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Steve M. Albert, PhD , Department of Behavioral & Community Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Yll Agimi, MPH , Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
As the majority of adults in the U.S. age, there is an increasing need for better understanding how social relationships impact health. Several studies have shown that social networks have an influence on one's health behaviors. According to Christakis and Fowler, a common network phenomenon, homophily, involves developing relationships with others that are similar to you. The intent of this study is to determine if older adults' health behaviors are shared within social networks. Interviews are underway with 150 older adults, 50 years of age and older, recruited from low-income, county-sponsored senior housing. Participants reported demographic status, personal health behaviors, social network structure, and key health behaviors for themselves and for named alters from within primary and secondary networks. Health behaviors included physical activity, body mass index, and smoking status. To elicit network alters, respondents placed up to four friends or contacts within bull's eye circles and then reported health behaviors for each named contact. Findings from the first 30 participants suggest strong effects for homophily, especially for body mass index. In respondents who were overweight or obese, 56% of contacts were reported to be overweight. In respondents not overweight or obese, only 7% were overweight. These results suggest that health behaviors are shared within older adults' social networks. Public health interventions for older adults should consider the influence that social relationships have on personal health behaviors. Network-based interventions may be required.

Learning Areas:
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe the measurement techniques used to assess older adultsí social networks. Discuss the relationships between older adultsí social networks and their health behaviors. Identify areas for future research on the effects of social relationships on older adultsí health behaviors.

Keywords: Aging, Health Behavior

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. I have assisted with the data analysis and content for this abstract.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

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