Physical exercise and physical activity (PA) are positive behaviors that promote mental and physical health. For young people, the importance of PA cannot be overestimated. Childhood obesity is on the rise and public schools are eliminating exercise programs daily. More parents work and unattended children often have access to video games, computers, and television.
Technological advances have had a negative effect on overall PA among youth, and have potentially contributed to increased obesity and other health problems in young people. Understanding what factors promote PA in young people is vital and could help strengthen interventions and approaches aimed at increasing overall PA in today’s youth.
Claire C. Maturo, MPH, of the Department of Behavioral Science and Health Education at Emory University in Georgia wanted to investigate this issue further. To do so, she analyzed data from 106 existing studies on PA and youth. She looked only at those studies that explored peer influence in young people under the age of 19.
Maturo found that 43 of 55 studies showed a strong positive relationship between peer and friend encouragement and participant PA. She also found that when friends encouraged the participant, the friends also increased their exercise levels. Further, engaging with friends was a promoting factor for PA in 9 of 10 studies.
Childhood obesity is linked to diabetes and future risk of high blood pressure and cardiac issues. During childhood, obesity and lack of PA can make someone a target for bullying. The negative effects of low PA can include depression, anxiety, low mood, poor attention, lack of focus, academic concerns, and overall poor physical health.
“Understanding friendship influences in childhood can facilitate the promotion of lifelong healthy habits,” said Maturo. “PA with friends should be considered in health promotion programs.” Although more work needs to be done on this critical topic, this latest research is an important step on the long road toward better health for the next generation and those to follow.
Maturo, Claire C., MPH, and Solveig A. Cunningham, PhD. (2013). Influence of friends on children’s physical activity: A review. American Journal of Public Health 103.7 (2013): E23-38. ProQuest. Web.
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