How a BFF Effects Children’s Physical Activity

Summary
This study was conducted to look at whether exercise and physical activity are better and more vigorous when children perform them with friends. Results showed that boys with friends who indulge in more physical activity spend more time doing vigorous activities like exercise and play. Similarly, girls who work-out or play actively with their “best friends” tend to be more physically active. The current study states, “Boys and girls who take part in physical activity with their best friend at home or in the neighborhood where they live engage in higher levels of physical activity.”

Introduction
Over the last few years, the time that children and adolescents spend on physical activities has decreased. This affects them mentally as well as physically. It puts them at risk for heart disease later in life, and lack of activities puts them at a social disadvantage too. Various strategies have been used to increase the time of intense physical activity among children to at least an hour per day. Not many of these efforts have succeeded. Some studies have shown evidence that having active friends often motivates children to be active themselves. However, none of the studies have been extensive and well-planned. This detailed study was conducted to explore the link between having active friends and being physically active.

Methodology
* A total of 472 10- and 11-year old children from 40 different primary schools were included in the study.
* All the children were given activity measuring monitors to wear for five days.
* Thereafter, the children answered questionnaires that asked them if they had best friends. The children were asked if, and for how long, they participated in physical activities with these best friends. They also answered questions related to whether their friends, or they themselves, suggested being active.

Results/Key findings
* Results showed that total minutes of intense physical activity increased in both boys and girls if they had best friends.
* Having a friend at home or living nearby definitely enhanced physical activities in both boys and girls.
* For girls, having a best friend play at least twice weekly increased physical activity. For boys, the same rise in activity was seen if there was a participation in a sports team by a friend.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that the study population, being limited to a single city, may have shown a different picture than a study done throughout the country. They also state that only best friends from school were included in the evaluation. The children may be active with friends who do not go to the same school. They also write that the effects of the participating child on the physical activities of the “best friend” have not been studied. They suggest that further studies that follow children over a longer period of time and from different regions might give a clearer picture.

Conclusion
This study concludes, “Boys who have best friends who are physically active engage in greater amounts of physical activity. Girls who frequently take part in physical activity with their best friend obtain higher levels of physical activity than girls who do so less frequently.” Furthermore, the physical activity rises if the friend lives nearby. This means children spend more time being physically active beyond school hours than during school time. The authors suggest that this might mean that if attempts are being made to create support systems and networks of active friends, the end result of increased physical activities of children could be realized.

For More Information:
Better with a Buddy: Influence of Best Friends on Children’s Physical Activity
Publication Journal: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Accepted for Publication June 2010
By Russell Jago, PhD; Kyle MacDonald-Wallis; University of Bristol, United Kingdom

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.