How Could Social Networks Predict Health Outcomes?

Read Transcript

I think we're going to see a revolution in this decade in terms of how we use friends. We're going to be using friends data to do risk prediction, we're going to do a much better job at figuring out who's at risk and who's not at risk for certain outcomes like weight gain or heart attack, diabetes.

By looking at the outcomes of a person's friends and by having a much better ability to predict who's at risk, we'll be able to focus like a laser beam our resources on those individuals to try to get this magnifying effect of networks. So, friend's data is one thing that is going to be more utilized over the course of the next 10 years.

We also have friends as motivators, so I think increasingly what you're going to see for example health coaching programs are going to be oriented towards getting friends and family involved. You might even see health coaches actively engaging not just their clients but their clients social network, in order to try and motivate and reinforce positive behavior change.

We already know that coaching works but I think we could probably make it much more effective by bringing friends in and there's some experimental evidence that this is true that people who diet together do better than people who diet alone and close friends dieting together do better than acquaintances dieting together.

This is work by Winnie Wlnger of Brown University so I think you're going to see more of this online utilizing these social connections to recommend people that you get involved whenever you're trying to make a positive change. And then thing that I think is the most important thing is this friends as multiplier, realizing that there are some people who are highly influential and so it pays to really get those individuals on board earlier, and invest more resources in them in order to try to change their behavior because when you change them, you're not just changing them, you're changing in some cases, dozens and hundreds of them as you go, and we're actively engaged in this.

It's really difficult again to bring together the online data, in terms of health the online data, in terms of social. So our early research has been in things outside of health like in terms of voting, but in that early research, we're showing that a single message on Facebook, can change the real behavior hundred of thousands of people.

I'm hopeful that just like we've being able to do this for voting, we're going to be able to do this for health.