An agent-based simulation of persistent inequalities in health behavior: Understanding the interdependent roles of segregation, clustering, and social influence

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4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Health inequalities are conspicuously persistent through time and often durable even in spite of interventions. In this study, I use agent-based simulation models (ABMs) to understand how the complex interrelationships between residential segregation, social network formation, group-level preferences, and social influence may contribute to this persistence. I use a more-stylized ABM, Bubblegum Village (BV), to understand how initial inequalities in bubblegum-chewing behaviors either endure, increase, or decrease over time given group-level differences in preferences, neighborhood-level barriers or facilitators of bubblegum chewing (e.g., access to bubblegum shops), and agents’ preferences for segregation, homophily, and clustering (i.e., the ‘tightness’ of social networks). I further use BV to understand whether segregation and social network characteristics impact whether the effects of a bubblegum-reduction intervention that is very effective in the short term are durable over time, as well as to identify intervention strategies to reduce attenuation of the intervention effects. In addition to BV, I also present results from an ABM based on the distribution and social characteristics of the population in Philadelphia, PA. This model explores similar questions to BV, but examines racial/ethnic inequalities in soda consumption based on agents’ social characteristics and baseline soda consumption probabilities informed by the 2007–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Collectively, the models suggest that residential segregation is a fundamental process for the production and persistence of health inequalities. The other major conclusion of the study is that, for behaviors that are subject to social influence and that cluster within social groups, interventions that are randomly-targeted to individuals with ‘bad’ behaviors will likely experience a large degree of recidivism to pre-intervention behaviors. In contrast, interventions that target multiple members of the same network, as well as multilevel interventions that include a neighborhood-level component, can reduce recidivism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-769
Number of pages13
JournalSSM - Population Health
Volume2
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Keywords

  • Complex systems
  • Diet
  • Health inequalities
  • Segregation
  • Social influence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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