Your Kids Friends Affect Level of Physical Activity

Are your kids turning in to their couch potato friends? If your kids’ friends are the lazy kind, it may
be time to re-evaluate who you’re letting them hang out with.

A new study published on May 28th in the Journal Pediatrics says your child’s physical activity
level is directly related to their friends. The study shows that children who interact with those
who are more active will have a higher activity level as a result. Having a more active role in
your child’s choice of social circle is a great way for parents to have an influence on their child’s
weight. And starting at a young age will teach them the importance of staying active.

The study was conducted on a boys and girls afterschool program for 12 weeks. A name
generator survey was used to map each child’s social network, and accelerometers were used
to measure physical activity. The children did not form or dissolve friendships based on physical
activity levels, but existing friendships heavily influenced children’s level of physical activity.
Interestingly, children made adjustments to their activity level by 10% to emulate that of their
peers, increasing or decreasing accordingly. Obesity status and gender had no effect on activity.

The results of this study suggest that our children’s peers do have a critical effect on how active
they are on a daily basis, especially for kids as young as 5 to 12 years of age. Taking a proactive
role in your child’s life and making a well thought out choice in the types of social programs you
enroll your child in can result in a more active kid. As your child gets older it will become much
more difficult.

This study demonstrates just how much our children’s friends influence their behavior. If our
kids will increase their activity level based on having more active friends, it’s safe to say that our
kids could potentially lower their activity level as well. As adults we choose our friends based
on common interests and an ability to get along and a genuine like for each other. If we choose
friends who influence us to do things that don’t benefit our bodies like over-indulge in alcoholic
beverages and unhealthy foods, we’ll likely end up leading a more sedentary life and gaining
unwanted weight. If our goal is to lose weight and become more physically active, we’ll reach to
our friends who resemble those qualities or we’ll seek out new friends who we can relate to in that
way. Children don’t choose friends based on how active they are nor will they end a friendship
for the same reason. We as parents have to help them make the right choice, or do it for them.

What’s great about this study is that it puts the responsibility back in to the hands of the parents
when it comes to choosing the social networks your child is a part of. Ask your kids what types of
activities they enjoy and find a local program you can enroll them in with other kids their own age.
Help them to get excited about their new social endeavors and get them involved in the process.
Our kids thrive on social opportunities, so set them up for success.

By Joanna Dolgoff, MD

Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. is a Pediatrician, Child Obesity Specialist, Official Spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right (Rodale, 2010).  Dr. Dolgoff has been featured on Today, The Early Show, Nightline, CNN, MSNBC, GMA Health, 700 Club, Extra, Lifetime, Discovery Health, America’s Newsroom, and most major news outlets.