Friends play a major role in youngsters’ levels of physical activity, new research indicates.
“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,” said study author Jessica Graus Woo, an associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.
“Clinicians may also need to consider how to get children to be active with their friends,” she said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.
The study included 104 children and teens who were asked to rank 10 potential benefits and 15 potential barriers to physical activity.
Top barriers included feeling self-conscious (29 percent), lack of enjoyment (22 percent), poor health (22 percent), lack of self-discipline (21 percent) and lack of energy (21 percent).
About 78 percent of the youngsters said they received family encouragement to be active, but only 36 percent to 48 percent said their family or friends did physical activities with them.
Children and teens who did physical activities with a friend were far less likely to cite barriers for not exercising, while family participation or encouragement did not have this effect.
Only 38 percent of youngsters who said friends never or almost never joined them in physical activity were among those with the highest levels of activity, compared with 76 percent of those who were physically active with friends.
While children aged 12 and older were more likely than younger children to understand the health benefits of being physically active, they were also more likely to cite barriers such as lack of time, lack of enjoyment and fear of injury.
The findings, which are to be presented Tuesday at an AHA meeting in Baltimore, suggest that programs focusing on friends may be a good way to boost children’s physical activity levels.
Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“We speculate that the social network of friendships is increasingly important in influencing behaviors as children get older,” said Woo.
“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.
– Robert Preidt
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about children and exercise.
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