Abstract for: Extending Opinion Dynamics to Model Public Health Problems and the Evaluation of Policy Interventions

The public health community is recognizing the importance of social network dynamics in analyzing chronic diseases correlated with behaviors including tobacco and alcohol use, substance abuse, and obesity. These behaviors are driven in part by opinions that individuals hold regarding products, behaviors, and lifestyles. The opinions and behaviors of individuals are influenced by their personal social networks, as well as exogenous components, such as advertisements. We extend the basic opinion dynamics model to include two processes important for analysis of behaviors correlated with chronic diseases. The first is an antagonistic reaction that drives individuals further apart in opinion space; the second is the addition of hysteresis representing the constraint addiction places on an individualís behaviors. We apply this extended model to consider smoking within a community and various approaches to influence its prevalence, including advertisements and health-related educational campaigns. We examine the roles of advertising strength, the strategic importance of tolerance, and how hysteresis in the behavioral function influences smoking within a community. Finally, we show how spatially and temporally local results can act as inputs to a population-wide, long term system dynamics model. This allows for the examination of the impact of interventions on future mortality.