How do our social networks influence our health?

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.

Social network body size is associated with body size norms of South Asian adults

Personal social networks and organizational affiliation of South Asians in the United States


Completion of Exam 2 Visits and Recruitment

Completion of Exam 2 Visits and Recruitment

Thank you for your help in getting us to the finish line this month. As of early March, we have completed our second clinical exams for the MASALA study and have seen a total of 749 (83%) people from our original sample of 906 participants! We have also added another 257 new participants to our study.

Relation of Ectopic Fat with Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk Score in South Asians Living in the United States (from the MASALA Study)

Photograph from Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Photograph from Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

It is well known that obesity is a risk factor for heart disease. Increasingly we are learning that where that fat is stored also has implications for heart disease risk. The most obvious differences in fat storage location can be seen in the fat distributions of men compared to women, or between those who are apple shaped versus pear shaped. In MASALA, fat has been measured from around the heart (pericardial), in the liver (hepatic), in the muscle (intermuscular), in the body cavity (visceral), and under the skin (subcutaneous). The area under the skin is traditionally considered the primary location of fat storage in healthy normal weight individuals. Fat stored in other locations is generally considered to be an indication of obesity or excess fat. We looked at whether fat stored in these different areas had different associations with heart disease risk using the ASCVD risk score.

In MASALA, we found that more fat around the heart and in the body cavity had the strongest associations with heart disease risk, followed by fat in the muscle. The relationships we observed for heart disease risk with fat in the liver and under the skin were different, suggesting that fat stored in these areas may have a different function. These findings support prior research reporting that fat stored in different locations has different properties, functions, and contributions to heart disease risk. More work is needed to understand why fat gets stored in different locations and how we can use this knowledge to reduce heart disease risk.

Please click here for manuscript.