Home Institution

Tufts University

Publication Date

Fall 12-1-2014

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Research question: How are health risk factors shared between people by means of their social networks? Objectives: The main objective of the study is to determine the correlation between a person's social network and which health risk factors are most prevalent in network members. The first specific objective is to evaluate the rates of the most common risk factors in social networks and how these disperse throughout the network. The second is to analyze whether people with similar health risk factors have similar social tendencies. The final objective is to identify the risk factors most transmittable through social networks. Background: Chile's development in the past forty years has brought new health concerns, shifting the focus from malnutrition to noncommunicable and chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The prevalence of the health risk factors, which are thought to be the major causes of these conditions, continues to rise, mainly rates of smoking, alcohol use, obesity, and lack of exercise. The social network prospective provides a unique point of view with which to view these conditions. Though noncommunicable diseases are not contagious biologically, they are considered socially transmissible through the influence of close friends and family. The main problem of this investigation is to find how health habits, and in turn health risk factors, are dispersed by means of social networks in college age students. Methodology: Fifty-seven university students in Valparaiso, Chile participated in the study on the campuses of four different universities. Participants were limited to students who were in groups of three or more at the time of the interview, and these groups were used to define the students' social network. Thirteen groups in all participated. All participants completed a written questionnaire and ten groups (forty-two participants) also took part in an oral interview. Questionnaires consisted of questions about participants' closest social contacts and health habits concerning smoking, alcohol use, and exercise and eating habits. The oral interviews asked participants' perceptions on how they developed these health habits and whether they thought their friends had influence on them. Results: The most prevalent health risk factor for the full sample was alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. The frequency of food consumption was the same for both healthy and unhealthy foods. Data was analyzed by similarity of answers within the interview group and stratified by groups of close friends and classmates. Five interview groups were categorized as groups of close friends, and eight as groups of classmates. For the full sample, answers for frequency of smoking, exercising, and eating unhealthy food were different within interview groups, and there was one level of difference in answers for alcohol consumption and eating healthy foods. For groups of close friends, smoking habits overall had different answers, but all other risk factors only had one level of difference in habit frequency. Groups of classmates had one level of difference in alcohol consumption and eating healthy food, but different answers for smoking, exercise, and unhealthy food consumption. Overall, groups of close friends had more similarity in health habits than groups of classmates, especially in the categories that had the most diversity in answers for the full sample. The main sources of habits perceived by students were their family/childhood and university. Seven of ten groups believed their health habits are influenced by their peers. Conclusions: Social networks that share a greater quantity of internal social links have more similarity in health habits than social groups with fewer connections. This may be due to greater amounts of homophily and social support shared between members of tighter social networks. The most predominant health risk factors for university students in Valparaíso are alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating. Lifestyle changes that occur in universities have a large effect on the health habits of students because of lack of time, money, and the culture surrounding alcohol consumption.


Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Research | Demography, Population, and Ecology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Health and Physical Education | International and Area Studies | Latin American Studies | Medical Education | Medicine and Health | Other Public Health | Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Sociology


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