Objectives: Examine Peer Support (PS) for complex, sustained health behaviors in prevention or disease management with emphasis on diabetes prevention and management.
Data sources and eligibility: PS was defined as emotional, motivational and practical assistance provided by nonprofessionals for complex health behaviors. Initial review examined 65 studies drawn from 1442 abstracts identified through PubMed, published 1/1/2000-7/15/2011. From this search, 24 reviews were also identified. Extension of the search in diabetes identified 30 studies published 1/1/2000-12/31/2015.
Results: In initial review, 54 of all 65 studies (83.1%) reported significant impacts of PS, 40 (61.5%) reporting between-group differences and another 14 (21.5%) reporting significant within-group changes. Across 19 of 24 reviews providing quantifiable findings, a median of 64.5% of studies reviewed reported significant effects of PS. In extended review of diabetes, 26 of all 30 studies (86.7%) reported significant impacts of PS, 17 (56.7%) reporting between-group differences and another nine (30.0%) reporting significant within-group changes. Among 19 of these 30 reporting HbA1c data, average reduction was 0.76 points. Studies that did not find effects of PS included other sources of support, implementation or methodological problems, lack of acceptance of interventions, poor fit to recipient needs, and possible harm of unmoderated PS.
Conclusions: Across diverse settings, including under-resourced countries and health care systems, PS is effective in improving complex health behaviors in disease prevention and management including in diabetes.
Keywords: Community health workers; Disease management; Peer support; Prevention; Social support.