Social networks and obesity among Somali immigrants and refugees

Jane W. Njeru, Mark L. Wieland, Janet M. Okamoto, Paul J. Novotny, Margaret K. Breen-Lyles, Ahmed Osman, Yahye A. Ahmed, Mohamud A. Nur, Omar Nur, Irene G. Sia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Somali immigrants and refugees to the United States are at high risk for obesity and related cardiovascular risk. Social network factors influence health behaviors and are important contributors to the obesity epidemic. The objective of this study was to describe social networks and obesity-related characteristics among adult Somali immigrants in a Minnesota city in order to inform a community-based, participatory, research-derived, social network intervention to decrease obesity rates. Methods: Survey data (demographics, general health measures, and sociobehavioral and network measures) and height and weight measures (for calculating body mass index) were collected from adult Somali immigrants by bilingual study team members at community locations. Descriptive statistics were used to report the survey and biometric data. Logistic regression models were used to describe the basic associations of participants and network factors. Network data were analyzed to identify nodes and ties, to visualize the network, and to identify potential interventionists for a future social network intervention. Results: Of the 646 participants, 50% were overweight or affected by obesity. The network had 1703 nodes with 3583 ties between nodes, and modularity was high (0.75). Compared with respondents of normal weight, participants who were overweight or affected by obesity had more network members who were also overweight or obese (odds ratio [OR], 2.90; 95% CI, 1.11-7.56; P =.03); this was most notable for men (OR, 4.58; 95% CI, 1.22-17.22; P =.02) and suggestive for those 50 years or older (OR, 24.23; 95% CI, 1.55-377.83; P =.03). Weight loss intention among participants who were overweight or affected by obesity was associated with number of family members and friends trying to lose weight, enabling functional network factors (social norms for weight loss, social support for healthy eating, and social cohesion), and less favorable obesogenic social norms. Conclusions: In this community sample of Somali immigrants, distinct social networks are clustered by weight status, and social contacts and functional network characteristics are related to individuals' weight loss intentions. These factors should be considered in weight loss interventions and programs. A social network intervention targeting weight loss, within a community-based participatory research framework, is feasible in this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number238
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 17 2020


  • Community-based participatory research
  • Immigrants
  • Obesity
  • Refugees
  • Social network analysis
  • Somali

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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