Investigating the Diffusion of Agent-based
Modelling and System Dynamics
Modelling in Population Health and
, Hong Xue
, Yan Li
, Judy Xu
and Youfa Wang
Research Institute of Economics and Management, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics,
Chengdu, Sichuan China
Center for Health Innovation, The New York Academy of Medicine, New York, NY USA
Department of Population Health Science and Policy, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York,
School of Public Administration, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu, Sichuan China
Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, College of Health, Ball State University, Muncie, IN USA
System dynamics modelling (SDM) applications in health research began to appear in 1972
while agent-based modelling (ABM) applications ﬁrst appeared in 1995, but their
applications have increased dramatically over the last decade. This study examines the
diffusion patterns of these two approaches and the main driving factors. We conducted a
systematic analysis of 653 journal articles published from 1972 to 2014 that employed two
approaches in health research and found that over the last few years, there has been a rapid
increase of studies in using ABM compared with SDM, partly due to the launching of new
journals and the application of ABM to a broad range of topics. The concentration of SDM
studies in just a few journals may be adversely affecting its diffusion. The last decade saw
acceleration in using ABM to investigate infectious diseases and cancer while SDM
applications have predominantly focused on non-communicable diseases such as obesity.
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Keywords systems science; agent-based modelling; system dynamics modelling; diffusion; health
Many population health and healthcare
challenges can be better understood if they are
viewed as complex systems consisting of
dynamic, interdependent factors characterized
by non-linearity, feedback loops and interference.
* Correspondence to: Shiyong Liu, Institute of Economics and
Management, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics
Research, Guanghua Village Ave #55, Chengdu, Sichuan 610074, China.
Youfa Wang, Fisher Institute of Health and Well-Being, Health and
Physical Activity Building (HP), Room 302, Ball State University,
Muncie, IN 47306, USA.
Received 7 May 2016
Accepted 28 April 2017Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Systems Research and Behavioral Science
Syst. Res 35, 203–215 (2018)
Published online 3 July 2017 in Wiley Online Library
(wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/sres.2460