US adolescents' friendship networks and health risk behaviors: a systematic review of studies using social network analysis and Add Health data.
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Background. Documented trends in health-related risk behaviors among US adolescents have remained high over time. Studies indicate relationships among mutual friends are a major influence on adolescents' risky behaviors. Social Network Analysis (SNA) can help understand friendship ties affecting individual adolescents' engagement in these behaviors. Moreover, a systematic literature review can synthesize findings from a range of studies using SNA, as well as assess these studies' methodological quality. Review findings also can help health educators and promoters develop more effective programs. Objective. This review systematically examined studies of the influence of friendship networks on adolescents' risk behaviors, which utilized SNA and the Add Health data (a nationally representative sample). Methods. We employed the Matrix Method to synthesize and evaluate 15 published studies that met our inclusion and exclusion criteria, retrieved from the Add Health website and 3 major databases (Medline, Eric, and PsycINFO). Moreover, we assigned each study a methodological quality score (MQS). Results. In all studies, friendship networks among adolescents promoted their risky behaviors, including drinking alcohol, smoking, sexual intercourse, and marijuana use. The average MQS was 4.6, an indicator of methodological rigor (scale: 1-9). Conclusion. Better understanding of risky behaviors influenced by friends can be useful for health educators and promoters, as programs targeting friendships might be more effective. Additionally, the overall MQ of these reviewed studies was good, as average scores fell above the scale's mid-point.