The use of a social network lens to study health, which posits that human relationships are critical for understanding health behaviors, outcomes, and change is relatively nascent. Yet, lack of data has meant that the effect of social networks on health, especially in disadvantaged communities, remains understudied.
To address this gap, I am collaborating with colleagues in public health to collect longitudinal data on social networks and health behaviors in public housing developments in Boston. Our goals are to analyze (1) the evolution of networks and health behaviors over time, (2) the relationship between networks and vaccine hesitancy, and (3) the potential for network-based health interventions in this disadvantaged context. This work draws on a theoretical model I developed using agent-based simulations, which demonstrates that inequalities can worsen when cultural materials (such as health-related habits) diffuse at divergent rates across homophilous (the tendency to be tied to others similar to oneself) social networks published in Social Forces. In the first paper published from this project at BMC Public Health, my co-author and I show that social networks of public housing residents are homophilous on health behaviors. Our findings underscore the potential for mitigating inequalities by leveraging social networks for implementing health interventions in this context.
In a second set of collaborations published at Complexity and Simulation in Healthcare with colleagues at Boston University and beyond, my co-authors and I create and demonstrate the use of open-source simulation models that account for social network structures and human values in containing pandemic-like spread of viruses.