Social Networks and Health – The Research and the Reviews

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

I’ve been increasingly interested in health-focused social networks. Why? Because several recent scientific studies have found that real-life social networks are quite relevant to health. Indeed, a study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated a large social network of over 12,000 people over 32 years to assess the person-to-person spread of obesity [1]. The study results suggest that friends, siblings and spouses have an even greater effect on a person’s risk of obesity than genetics.

What’s interesting is that this type of research is being done now, when the use of web 2.0 services facilitating collaboration and sharing between users on the internet is thriving. We’re witnessing an explosion of social networking sites, many of which are focused on health.

Social Networks and Health

I’ve published an article titled Social Networks and Health over at the Highlight HEALTH Web Directory. It describes some of the recent scientific studies on social networks and health, and discusses web 2.0 in healthcare and medicine.

social networkMore and more websites are tapping into the “wisdom of crowds” to collect health information and give advice. I believe these online social networks affect patients in much the same way as real-life social networks. Some 9.9 million consumers, in addition to reading weblogs, regularly post health information online and learn from each other [2]. People are clearly using these tools, and it’s my intention over the coming months to write a series of review articles describing the websites, what they have to offer and how they can affect your health. Check out Social Networks and Health for more information.

But what good are the reviews if we don’t understand the concepts? Several prominent bloggers will be guest posting and introduce us to Health 2.0, Fitness 2.0 and Medicine 2.0. I’ve created a page on the Highlight HEALTH Web Directory to index articles that discuss Web 2.0 in Health, Fitness and Medicine. I’ll post updates there when new content is added. You can navigate to it using the left-most grey menu button “Health and Medicine 2.0” at the top of every page on the directory.

In the spirit of web 2.0 and collaboration, I’m also looking for guest writers who are interested in writing a review of a social health network. Is there a specific site you visit regularly? Tell us about it in a review. This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to a new audience and to share your thoughts and insights. I’ll treat each review as a guest post, with links back to your blog or website. I’ll also be writing about the reviews here at Highlight HEALTH.

Additional resources related to web 2.0 and health can be found in the following Highlight HEALTH Web Directory categories: Health 2.0, Medicine 2.0, Fitness 2.0, Health Search and Weblogs.

UPDATE: Instead of a page to index articles, I’ve started a blog, Highlight HEALTH 2.0. You can read more about it here.


  1. Christakis and Fowler. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. N Engl J Med. 2007 Jul 26;357(4):370-9. Epub 2007 Jul 25.Ӭ
    View abstract
  2. Forecasting the Future: Consumers 2010. Manhattan Research.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.


  1. A really timely post. It’s high time that the power of Web 2.0, or social media, or whatever you want to call it, is invoked purposefully to leverage health outcomes.

    Part of the problem, as we’ve touched on before, is that most practicing physicians are not at all Internet savvy, much less Web 2.0, Twitter, Facebook, social networking site, or even Google Reader or Google news savvy. This will change, as the generation now in training now “imports” their native Web 2.0 familiarity from their personal into their professional and academic lives.

    But we’re still a ways off, when 90% of American physicians don’t even use an EMR, yet.

    Still, now is the time that will be remembered as when everything started coming together. And it’s never too late to be impressed by what Web 2.0 can do, for you and yours, your patients, and your practice.

    FWIW, I’d love to be a guest writer.

  2. Thanks Peter – I couldn’t agree more with your statements. If managed properly (e.g. positive support structure, factual information), I believe online social health networks can have a favorable affect on a patient’s health. However, many people, both patients and physicians alike, don’t understand what these websites are or the benefits they can offer. Indeed, one of the reasons I started this project was to learn more myself …

    I’d love to have your involvement in the project! Your insights as a physician would be invaluable.


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