Social Network Structures in African American Churches: Implications for Health Promotion Programs

Soohyun Nam, Sunyoung Jung, Robin Whittemore, Carl Latkin, Trace Kershaw, Nancy S. Redeker, Sangchoon Jeon, David Vlahov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The prevalence of obesity among African Americans is higher than among other racial/ethnic groups. African American churches hold a central role in promoting health in the community; yet, church-based interventions have had limited impact on obesity. While recent studies have described the influence of social networks on health behaviors, obesity interventions informed by social network analysis have been limited. We conducted a cross-sectional study with 281 African American men and women from three churches in northeast urban cities in the USA. Data were collected on sociodemographic and clinical factors and anthropometrics. Using a social network survey applying a name generator, we computed network level metrics. Exponential random graph models (ERGM) were performed to examine whether each structural property found in the empirical (observed) networks occurred more frequently than expected by chance by comparing the empirical networks to the randomly simulated networks. Overall, church friendship networks were sparse (low density). We also found that while friendship ties were more reciprocated between dyads in church networks, and there were more tendencies for clustering of friendships (significant positive transitive closure) than in random networks, other characteristics such as expansiveness (number of actors with a great number of friends) did not differ from what would be expected by chance in random networks. These data suggest that interventions with African American churches should not assume a unitary network through which a single intervention should be used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)300-310
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • African American
  • Church-based intervention
  • Community-based health intervention
  • Obesity
  • Social network analysis
  • Social network structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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