Looking for Connections to Combat Childhood Obesity

Dates of Project: January 2011 through December 2011

Field of Work: Social network analysis on childhood obesity prevention

Problem Synopsis: RWJF's success in reducing childhood obesity depends in large part on its ability to communicate with important audiences, connect diverse people working on the issue, and build a field of researchers, policy-makers, and advocates. RWJF staff realized that understanding social networks—sets of individuals or organizations and the relationships and flow of information and knowledge between them—would be central to these efforts.

Synopsis of the Work: Key participants working in childhood obesity completed an online Social Network Analysis survey that asked about:

  • Their ties to 10 influential organizations working in childhood obesity advocacy/policy, training/technical assistance, or research
  • Their affiliations with RWJF childhood obesity prevention national programs
  • The RWJF childhood obesity priorities respondents addressed
  • Respondents' connections with 13 different constituencies
  • Recommendations for future connections

"Social network analysis can be a tool to help understand not just who is present and who is missing, but also the strategy for making connections and determining the people who need to be reached."—Kimberly A. Fredericks, PhD, MPA, RD, associate dean, chair graduate programs, and associate professor of management, Sage Colleges School of Management

Key Results

Researchers provided RWJF with a list of organizations that experts considered influential; descriptions of the connections among organizations; descriptions of the connections of RWJF's childhood obesity prevention national programs; and an examination of how six priority areas identified by RWJF influence the network structure.

"Where is the economic argument for how that will improve the quality of care and be worth the financial investment in additional training and education [for nurses]?"—Kathleen Kelly, PhD, MPH, MS, FNP, assistant professor of nursing, Sage Colleges School of Health Sciences

Key Findings

  • Many of the organizations that connected with each other in one of the three networks—advocacy/policy, training/technical assistance, and research—also connected in one or both of the other two networks, but different organizations constituted the core and the periphery for each.
  • Some groups on the periphery were influential in specific areas but were not connected with the core of the network.
  • RWJF has less connection with some constituencies than with others. For example, Laura C. Leviton, PhD, RWJF senior adviser for evaluation, said: "We need to work more with business."