An R; Loehmer E; Khan N; Scott MK; Rindfleisch K; McCaffrey J
Promoting healthy eating and lifestyles among populations with limited resources is a complex undertaking that often requires strong partnerships between various agencies. In local communities, these agencies are typically located in different areas, serve diverse subgroups, and operate distinct programs, limiting their communication and interactions with each other. This study assessed the network of agencies in local communities that promote healthy eating and lifestyles among populations with limited resources. Network surveys were administered in 2016 among 89 agencies located in 4 rural counties in Michigan that served limited-resource audiences. The agencies were categorized into 8 types: K-12 schools, early childhood centers, emergency food providers, health-related agencies, social resource centers, low-income/subsidized housing complexes, continuing education organizations, and others. Network analysis was conducted to examine 4 network structures-communication, funding, cooperation, and collaboration networks between agencies within each county. Agencies had a moderate level of cooperation, but were only loosely connected in the other 3 networks, indicated by low network density. Agencies in a network were decentralized rather than centralized around a few influential agencies, indicated by low centralization. There was evidence regarding homophily in a network, indicated by some significant correlations within agencies of the same type. Agencies connected in any one network were considerably more likely to be connected in all the other networks as well. In conclusion, promoting healthy eating and lifestyles among populations with limited resources warrants strong partnership between agencies in communities. Network analysis serves as a useful tool to evaluate community partnerships and facilitate coalition building.