The Usefulness of Web-Based Communication Data for Social Network Health Interventions: Agent-Based Modeling Study

David J. Blok*, Bojan Simoski, Thabo J. van Woudenberg, Moniek Buijzen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Social network interventions are an effective approach to promote physical activity. These interventions are traditionally designed using self-reported peer nomination network data to represent social connections. However, there is unexplored potential in communication data exchanged through web-based messaging apps or social platforms, given the availability of these data, the developments in artificial intelligence to analyze these data, and the shift of personal communication to the web sphere. The implications of using web-based versus offline social networks on the effectiveness of social network interventions remain largely unexplored. Objective: This study aims to investigate the differences in the impact of social network interventions on physical activity levels (PALs) between networks derived from web-based communication and peer nomination data. 


We used the data on sociometric questionnaires, messages from a web-based communication app, and PAL (number of steps per day) of 408 participants in 21 school classes. We applied social network analysis to identify influential peers and agent-based modeling to simulate the diffusion of PAL and explore the impact of social network interventions on PAL among adolescents in school classes. Influential peers (n=63) were selected based on centrality measures (ie, in-degree, closeness, and betweenness) to spread the intervention. They received health education, which increased their PAL by 17%. In sensitivity analyses, we tested the impact of a 5%, 10%, and 20% increase in PAL among influential peers. 

Results: resu

There was a 24%-27% overlap in selected influential peers between the 2 network representations. In general, the simulations showed that interventions could increase PAL by 5.0%-5.8% within 2 months. However, the predicted median impact on PAL was slightly higher in networks based on web-based communication data than peer nomination data for in-degree (5.7%, IQR 5.5%-6.1% vs 5.5%, IQR 5.2%-5.8%; P=.002), betweenness (5.6%, IQR 5.4%-5.9% vs 5.0%, IQR 4.7%-5.3%; P<.001), and closeness centrality (5.8%, IQR 5.6%-6.1% vs 5.3%, IQR 5.0%-5.6%; P<.001). A large variation in impact was observed between school classes (range 1.5%-17.5%). Lowering the effectiveness of health education from 17% to 5% would reduce the overall impact of the social network intervention by 3-fold in both networks. 


Our findings showed that network interventions based on web-based communication data could increase PAL. Web-based communication data may therefore be a valuable addition to peer nomination data for future social network intervention design. Artificial intelligence methods, including agent-based modeling, can help to design these network interventions and provide insights into the role of network characteristics in their effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere44849
JournalJMIR Pediatrics and Parenting
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2023

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