Several independent studies have found that social networks can be linked to obesity in adults and adolescents, but can the same be said for young children? In the study, “The Distribution of Physical Activity in an Afterschool Friendship Network,” in the June 2012 Pediatrics (published online May 28), researchers from Vanderbilt University studied data from 81 children 5 to 12 years of age participating in a 12-week afterschool program to examine whether physical activity patterns are influenced by a child’s friendship network. Accelerometers were used to measure physical activity, and a survey determined each child’s social network. The strongest influence on the amount of time children spent in moderate to vigorous activity in the afterschool programs was the activity level of their immediate friends. Children were six times more likely to adjust to their friends’ activity levels than not, but children did not make or break friendships based on physical activity. Given that obesity continues to be associated with adverse health effects that can carry into adulthood, study authors conclude that social network interventions hold the potential to produce clinically significant changes to children’s physical activity.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. (www.aap.org)