Research has highlighted the importance of peers for determining health behaviors in adolescents, yet these behaviors have typically been investigated in isolation. We need to understand common network processes operating across health behaviors collectively, in order to discern how social network processes impact health behaviors. Thus, this systematic review of studies investigated adolescent peer social networks and health behaviors. A search of six databases (CINAHL, Education Resources Information Centre, Embase, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, Medline and PsycINFO) identified 55 eligible studies. The mean age of the participants was 15.1 years (range 13-18; 51.1% female). Study samples ranged from 143 to 20,745 participants. Studies investigated drinking (31%), smoking (22%), both drinking and smoking (13%) substance use (18%), physical activity (9%) and diet or weight management (7%). Study design was largely longitudinal (n = 41, 73%) and cross-sectional (n = 14, 25%). All studies were set in school and all but one study focused on school-based friendship networks. The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale was used to assess risk of bias: studies were assessed as good (51%), fair (16%) or poor (33%). The synthesis of results revolved around two network behavior patterns: 1) health behavior similarity within a social network, driven by homophilic social selection and/or social influence, and 2) popularity: health behavior engagement in relation to changes in social status; or network popularity predicting health behaviors. Adolescents in denser networks had statistically significant lower levels of harmful behavior (n = 2/2, 100%). Findings suggest that social network processes are important factors in adolescent health behaviors.
Adolescents, Health behavior change, Health behaviors, Social networks, Systematic review