Active friends lead to fitter kids

When it comes to children’s fitness, it’s a classic case of not being what you know but who you know. Kids with active friends are more likely to engage in physical activity themselves, according to a recent study.

Study author Jessica Graus Woo, an associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, US, said, ‘Clinically, much of the focus on increasing physical activity involves engaging the family and encouraging the patient to be more active, but this study suggests that encouragement may not be sufficient. Clinicians may also need to consider how to get children to be active with their friends.’

The study researchers surveyed 100 children about their perceptions of the benefits and barriers to physical activity. One area focused on was the behaviour of family and friends.

Around 78 per cent of the study participants said they received family encouragement to be active, but less than half said their family or friends actually did physical activities with them.

Those who participated in physical activities with a friend were far less likely to cite barriers for not exercising than those who were simply encouraged to be active by family members.

Woo concluded: ‘We speculate that the social network of friendships is increasingly important in influencing behaviours as children get older. Having physically active friends may make it easier for obese children to get involved with activities and lower the perceived barriers for doing so, while having a physically active family may not be as inspiring’ she added.

The findings do raise the question of what comes first, being active and associating with other active kids, or associating with active kids and increasing activity as a result. If it were the latter, the challenge would be how to get active children to befriend their more sedentary counterparts.

Source: American Heart Association