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AS414 - Social networks and health among women in the WHI: A new area of inquiry?

AS414 - Social networks and health among women in the WHI: A new area of inquiry?

[This page is intended to provide a study summary, the sections of which are below. Please complete these sections, as applicable. The headings below are suggested headings. You can remove inapplicable sections, or add new ones relevant to your study]

Investigator Names and Contact Information

Crystal Wiley Cené, MD, MPH [ ]



Social networks, or ties between individuals, are important to a variety of health outcomes and may explain some disparities in health outcomes.1-12 Yet most health-related research does not conceptualize or measure social network ties in ways that support a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their impact on health. Social network analysis (SNA) is a theoretical perspective and methodology for describing, exploring and understanding structural and relational influences on health that is under-utilized in medicine and public health.13 The strength of social network theory rests on the testable assumption that the social structure of the network itself is largely responsible for determining individual health outcomes by shaping the flow of resources (e.g., information, social support) which determine access to opportunities and constraints on behavior.14

The structure and availability of resources through network ties may differ by age, race and gender.15-18 At the same time, social networks are shaped by larger social forces including culture, socioeconomic status, and place of residence.14 Recent work suggests that the networks of older adults- particularly women- tend to be smaller, more kin-centered, more dense (i.e. have a greater proportion of possible ties between network members represented) but with less frequent contact with network members.18, 19 Studies have also noted racial/ethnic differences in network characteristics among older versus younger adults, but the findings are inconsistent.19-22 Moreover, structural effects of the network on health may affect older minorities and Whites differently.21 The contribution of social network characteristics to health outcomes and racial/ethnic disparities in health among older adults is important, yet understudied; in part because of the lack of studies using nationally representative samples that contains both structural network and health outcome data.19 This knowledge gap is critical since the population is aging and becoming more diverse, networks change with age due to life-course factors (e.g., retirement, illness, bereavement), and the prevalence of chronic illnesses is increasing.

We propose to examine the social networks of a racially diverse sample of older women in the WHI using an egocentric network approach-23 where we assess the structure and functions of the personal networks of individuals. The specific aims of this study are:

Aim 1: To assess the feasibility of collecting social network data via telephone from a sample of WHI participants.

Aim 2: To perform descriptive statistics on social network structural characteristics (size, composition, density, bridging potential, etc.) overall and by race/ethnicity to inform sample size calculations for the ancillary study.

Aim 3: To assemble a multi-disciplinary team of WHI investigators with expertise in minority health and aging, health disparities, social network analysis and cardiovascular epidemiology to plan the ancillary study.



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