Network analysis in public health: history, methods, and applications

Annu Rev Public Health. 2007:28:69-93. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.28.021406.144132.


Network analysis is an approach to research that is uniquely suited to describing, exploring, and understanding structural and relational aspects of health. It is both a methodological tool and a theoretical paradigm that allows us to pose and answer important ecological questions in public health. In this review we trace the history of network analysis, provide a methodological overview of network techniques, and discuss where and how network analysis has been used in public health. We show how network analysis has its roots in mathematics, statistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, biology, physics, and computer science. In public health, network analysis has been used to study primarily disease transmission, especially for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; information transmission, particularly for diffusion of innovations; the role of social support and social capital; the influence of personal and social networks on health behavior; and the interorganizational structure of health systems. We conclude with future directions for network analysis in public health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Research / methods*
  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Social Support*