Could Good Health Be Contagious?

Nov 18, 2013, 6:00 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

A study released this week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions provides early evidence indicating that social networks can be leveraged to spread good health. The study, which is the first long-term randomized trial of its kind in the U.S., recruited friends and families in rural Kentucky into "microclinic" social network clusters. Together, the microclinic groups attended weekly social events, such as physical activity sessions and nutrition classes.  Collectively called Team Up 4 Health, these activities were supported with gifts from Humana, a health care company focused on wellness, as well as funding from the Mulago Foundation and the Goldsmith Foundation. Microclinic members lost more weight and more inches from their waistlines than those who received standard individual care. Microclinic participants sustained these results over time, lasting beyond the 10-month program period to even six months later.

To clarify, a microclinic has no bricks and mortar. Rather, it’s a small group – a network of friend and family members who come together to learn how to manage chronic disease through the Microclinic International’s Social Network Behavioral Health Program. Over the next two years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will support the Microclinic International research team as they discover new insights about the rural Kentucky project and another Microclinic International research site in Jordan.

The Foundation has long been interested in the effect that social networks have on health. We have funded many projects on this topic, including the impact of neighborhoods on stroke incidence, how health behaviors spread through social networks and, most recently, how social interactions can improve the health of older adults. The more we understand the connections between social networks and health, the better we can harness community dynamics to reduce chronic disease.  Look out for the release of more Microclinic International research analysis in the coming months. In the interim, you can follow the project on Twitter at @microclinics.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.