Social networks and infectious diseases prevention behavior: A cross-sectional study in people aged 40 years and older

Lisanne C.J. Steijvers*, Stephanie Brinkhues, Christian J.P.A. Hoebe, Theo G. Van Tilburg, Vivian Claessen, Noortje Bouwmeester-Vincken, Femke Hamers, Petra Vranken, Nicole H.T.M. Dukers-Muijrers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background Social networks, i.e., our in-person and online social relations, are key to lifestyle behavior and health, via mechanisms of influence and support from our relations. We assessed associations between various social network aspects and practicing behavior to prevent respiratory infectious diseases. Methods We analyzed baseline-data (2019) from the SaNAE-cohort on social networks and health, collected by an online questionnaire in Dutch community-dwelling people aged 40-99 years. Outcome was the number of preventive behaviors in past two months [range 0-4]. Associations between network aspects were tested using ordinal regression analyses, adjusting for confounders. Results Of 5,128 participants (mean age 63; 54% male), 94% regularly washed hands with water and soap, 55% used only paper (not cloth) handkerchiefs/tissues; 19% touched their face as little as possible; 39% kept distance from people with respiratory infectious disease symptoms; median score of behaviors was 2. Mean network size was 11 (46% family; 27% friends); six network members were contacted exclusively in-person and two exclusively via phone/internet. Participants received informational, emotional, and practical support from four, six, and two network members, respectively. Independently associated with more preventive behaviors were: 'strong relationships', i.e., large share of friends and aspects related to so called 'weak relationships', a larger share of distant living network members, higher number of members with whom there was exclusively phone/internet contact, and more network members providing informational support. Club membership and a larger share of same-aged network members were inversely associated. Conclusion Friends ('strong' relationships) may play an important role in the adoption of infection-preventive behaviors. So may 'weak relationships', e.g. geographically more distant network members, who may provide informational support as via non-physical modes of contact. Further steps are to explore employment of these types of relationships when designing infectious diseases control programs aiming to promote infection-preventive behavior in middle aged-and older individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0251862
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Early online date19 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Steijvers et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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