Many of us recognize that family, friends, peers, and coworkers play an important role in our lives. For a long time, health care has focused mostly on individuals, without considering how the people around us might influence our health and health behaviors. But now, there is growing interest in the power of social connectedness, the importance of social support, and the influences individuals have on one another’s behavior.
Social network analysis is a useful tool to study relationships and the flow of information between individuals, groups, and organizations. This may be especially important for South Asians, who place great importance on their family and community. In the MASALA study, we are studying the connections between social networks and the MASALA study participants’ diet, physical activity, weight, physical and mental health. MASALA is the first study to investigate how social networks influence health in the South Asian community. Understanding the social lives and relationships of South Asians and how they are linked to health can help inform more effective health behavior programs for our community.
We recently published two papers on social networks in MASALA. We found that South Asians have a relatively large social networks, consisting mostly of family members and individuals who are also South Asian. Social networks that were more dense (when network members know each other), emotionally closer, and were comprised mostly of family were more likely to talk about health with each other.
In a second paper, we looked at whether the body size of network members was associated with the MASALA participants’ perception of a “healthy” body size. We found that if the network members had larger body sizes, then the MASALA participant thought of larger body sizes as “healthy.” As a next step, we will look at whether these perceptions about healthy body size and the network members’ body size are associated with weight gain in MASALA participants.
Learn more about how social networks influence South Asians’ health by reading two papers that were recently published in peer reviewed scientific journals.