Are network-based interventions a useful antiobesity strategy? An application of simulation models for causal inference in epidemiology

  • El-Sayed A
  • Seemann L
  • Scarborough P
 et al. 
  • 78


    Mendeley users who have this article in their library.
  • 21


    Citations of this article.


Recent research suggests that social networks may present an avenue for intervention against obesity. By using a simulation model in which artificial individuals were nested in a social network, we assessed whether interventions targeting highly networked individuals could help reduce population obesity. We compared the effects of targeting antiobesity interventions at the most connected individuals in a network with those targeting individuals at random. We tested 2 interventions, the first "preventing" obesity among 10% of the population at simulation outset and the second "treating" obesity among 10% of the obese population yearly, each in 2 separate simulations. One simulation featured a literature-based parameter for the network spread of obesity, and the other featured an artificially high parameter. Interventions that targeted highly networked individuals did not outperform at-random interventions in simulations featuring the literature-based parameter. However, in simulations featuring the artificially high parameter, the targeted prevention intervention outperformed the at-random intervention, whereas the treatment intervention implemented at random outperformed the targeted treatment intervention. Results were qualitatively similar across network topologies and intervention scales. Although descriptive studies suggest that social networks influence the spread of obesity, policies targeting well-connected individuals in social networks may not improve obesity reduction. We highlight and discuss the potential applications of counterfactual simulations in epidemiology.

Author-supplied keywords

  • computer simulation
  • intervention
  • obesity
  • public health
  • social networks

Get free article suggestions today

Mendeley saves you time finding and organizing research

Sign up here
Already have an account ?Sign in

Find this document


  • Abdulrahman M. El-Sayed

  • Lars Seemann

  • Peter Scarborough

  • Sandro Galea

Cite this document

Choose a citation style from the tabs below

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free