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Annu Rev Public Health. 2017 Mar 20;38:103-118. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031816-044528. Epub 2016 Dec 15.

An Appraisal of Social Network Theory and Analysis as Applied to Public Health: Challenges and Opportunities.

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Institute for Prevention Research, Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90034; email:


The use of social network theory and analysis methods as applied to public health has expanded greatly in the past decade, yielding a significant academic literature that spans almost every conceivable health issue. This review identifies several important theoretical challenges that confront the field but also provides opportunities for new research. These challenges include (a) measuring network influences, (b) identifying appropriate influence mechanisms, (c) the impact of social media and computerized communications, (d) the role of networks in evaluating public health interventions, and (e) ethics. Next steps for the field are outlined and the need for funding is emphasized. Recently developed network analysis techniques, technological innovations in communication, and changes in theoretical perspectives to include a focus on social and environmental behavioral influences have created opportunities for new theory and ever broader application of social networks to public health topics.


intervention evaluation; social influence; social media; social network analysis

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