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Harnessing social networks to improve public health

A growing body of research suggests that social networks, both virtual and physical, may influence efforts to quit smoking, lose weight or even to be happy. Now researchers and public health leaders are working to determine how to use the growing science of social networks to reduce obesity, smoking and suicide rates. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Public health programs could tap into social networks in two main ways. . .One approach. . .is to manipulate the network of connections people have. Artificial social groups - think Weight Watchers - could be created to urge unhealthy members toward more healthful behaviors.

A second approach. . .is to manipulate existing networks so that positive health messages become "contagious." In this model, public health programs would target key members of a social group in an effort to influence the network at large.

As the article mentions, the big unknown is how one person's health behavior affects another's - and, moreover, it also remains unclear how to craft public campaigns to effectively influence individuals to alter their health behaviors.

Previously: Can good friends help you live longer?, How social networks might affect your health and Can you catch loneliness?

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