Kids' Friends May Be Good Influence for Exercise

By Chioma Ihekweazu

The company your child keeps can have a big influence on them, and according to research, physical activity is no exception to this rule.

A recent review found that the physical activity levels of a child’s friend can positively influence the physical activity levels of that child.

The researchers did not find a connection between friends and sedentary behaviors such as watching TV or playing video games.

This study was led by Keri Jo Sawka, of the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. This research team conducted a review of the relationship between friendship networks, amount of physical activity and sedentary (inactive) behaviors.

These researchers searched seven research databases and looked at references from eligible studies.

In order to be included in this review, studies had to include: children between 6 and 18 years of age, a measure of a child’s friendship network through friendship nominations (e.g., child identifying friends from a class list) or friendship rating (e.g., child indicating whom they prefer to play with most) and a measure of physical activity or sedentary activity (e.g., direct observation or self-report) for both the child and the child’s friends.

A total of 13 studies were included in their final review that met these requirements.

Physical activity was measured in four different ways in the 13 studies: using an accelerometer (measures motion), in-person interview, using a pedometer (measures number of steps) and with a survey.

Three studies out of the 13 also measured sedentary activities in addition to physical activity. These measures included time spent watching television and videos, playing video or computer games or using the Internet.

The researchers accounted for several factors that could have influenced physical activity, including age, gender, weight status, parent socioeconomic status and parent education level.

The researchers found that overall, a child’s physical activity was connected to the physical activity of their friends. In other words, if a child’s friend was physically active, that child was more likely to be physically active as well.

From the studies in which participants were followed over a period of time, the researchers found that changes in the physical activity levels of a child’s friend eventually were seen in the child as well.

The researchers did not find a relationship, however, between the sedentary activities of a child’s friend and the child’s sedentary behavior.

The authors of this review concluded that since friendships can influence physical activity in children, future interventions and exercise promotion programs should encourage group-based physical activity.

This review was published on December 1 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The authors reported no competing interests.

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