Introduction: Studies of community-based obesity prevention interventions have hypothesized that stakeholder networks are a critical element of effective implementation. This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the interpersonal network structures within a sub-sample of stakeholders from two past successful childhood obesity prevention interventions.
Methods: Participants were recruited from the stakeholder groups (steering committees) of two completed community-based intervention studies, Romp & Chomp (R&C), Australia (2004-2008) and Shape Up Somerville (SUS), USA (2003-2005). Both studies demonstrated significant reductions of overweight and obesity among children. Members of the steering committees were asked to complete a retrospective social network questionnaire using a roster of other committee members and free recall. Each participant was asked to recall the people with whom they discussed issues related to childhood obesity throughout the intervention period, along with providing the closeness and level of influence of each relationship.
Results: Networks were reported by 13 participants from the SUS steering committee and 8 participants from the R&C steering committee. On average, participants nominated 16 contacts with whom they discussed issues related to childhood obesity through the intervention, with approximately half of the relationships described as 'close' and 30% as 'influential'. The 'discussion' and 'close' networks had high clustering and reciprocity, with ties directed to other steering committee members, and to individuals external to the committee. In contrast, influential ties were more prominently directed internal to the steering committee, with higher network centralization, lower reciprocity and lower clustering.
Discussion and conclusion: Social network analysis provides a method to evaluate the ties within steering committees of community-based obesity prevention interventions. In this study, the network characteristics between a sub-set of stakeholders appeared to be supportive of diffused communication. Future work should prospectively examine stakeholder network structures in a heterogeneous sample of community-based interventions to identify elements most strongly associated with intervention effectiveness.