Interventions are often most effective when addressing social networks rather than individuals alone. Friends and family will likely have a far more personal interest in an individual’s health than a healthcare provider will. Dr. Steven Edelman, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and founder of Take Control of Your Diabetes, said that the best awareness campaigns often involve first-degree relatives: “Have you told your brother that he’s at risk? Your son, your daughter?” Friends and family can also be powerful sources of motivation, of shared goal-setting, and of maintenance through periods of stress. Said Varun Iyengar, a medical student at Brown University, “I can have the resources to go to the gym, and the time to go to the gym, but if I have a friend who’s motivating me to go there, then I’m much more likely to end up going.” Dr. Polonsky said that many of the most powerful social influences aren’t even active or deliberate. Even just spending time with people who are active makes you more likely to be active, simply because of the nature of social pressure.
Peer educators also represent a powerful way to increase the reach of prevention efforts. Well-informed educators can promote lifestyle change even outside of formal settings, such as by encouraging and teaching friends or colleagues. Peer education’s greatest power, however, may be in reaching typically disadvantaged communities, across barriers of race, language, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. People are often more eager to engage with educators who understand and share their background or current circumstances. Peer educators need to be put into action, though; training alone is not enough. Said Ms. Nelson of 18 Reasons, “A lot of time non-profits train peer educators, but then they don’t have anything for them to do.”