Friendships influence kids' activity levels
May 28th, 2012
12:33 PM ET

Friendships influence kids' activity levels

While children do not make or break friendships based on physical activity, a new study suggests their social network of friends can greatly influence how much they move. The research was published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

"We tend to think of teenagers as being very influential amongst their peers, but now we're seeing this in a younger age group as well," said study author Sabina Gesell, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

"So with that influence, friends can bring each other up in their activity level or can bring them down to become more sedentary, depending on what they are doing themselves," she added.

Gesell and colleagues studied 81 children between the ages of 5 and 12 during a 12-week after-school program.  They interviewed the children about who they were hanging out with the most.  Children were equipped with devices called accelerometers to measure their levels of activity.

When given the choice to keep their activity levels the same or change them to match those of their pals, children were six times more likely to choose the latter. They became more active or more sedentary, depending on the activity levels of their closest friends.  Many maintained their current levels of activity.

Gesell called the notion of using social networks to form interventions in the fight against childhood obesity "novel" and "promising."

She suggested that rearranging who plays with whom during playgroups in after-school programs could make impact.

"If we have groups who are typically sedentary, if we can sort of splinter them off and insert those kids into groups of active children, then those sedentary kids should become more active," she said. "We should be able to see this change within 12 weeks."

Dr. William Stratbucker, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Healthy Weight Center at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, agreed that this study highlights a scenario that could impact obesity prevention.

He noted that, "some kids chose to sit around and play games and other kids chose to run around and play on the playground."

Stratbucker said, "One big take-home message is that parents have to be aware of where their kids spend time during the day and if they're spending time in an after-school care program, which is very common, they need to be aware of what the environment's like there and what opportunities there are for the kids to be active."

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Bryon

    So we need a study to know that kids, are influenced by the people they hang out with. Can i get a job taking these studies please.

    May 28, 2012 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bryon

      The fact that they are kids makes them more impressionable even worse than teenagers. School should be about dealing with life and the social issues we come across not math. Teach someone to learn and they can learn math, lets have kids learn why bullying doesn't (shouldn't) matter (long term) and how to keep their self esteem up. Schools are so hard up that even they are cheating now....IDK life and these first world problems.....

      May 28, 2012 at 15:06 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff


      Schools teach kids about life and social issues? What? That's what parents should be doing. I went to school to learn science, math and the like. My parents taught me how to be a good citizen of the world. Parents need to start being parents and stop getting in the way of the the schools trying to teach their kids how to learn along with some skills along the way. PAretns should stick to teaching kids about life, morals, social skills and the like.

      May 28, 2012 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
    • Bryon

      Jeff I hear you but your not hear me. Im saying the CURRENT MODEL of schools is failing, look around talk to some teachers. The kids are focusing on being pushed through the math and science at failing grades.....Looks like they are not learning much at all...Teach kids how to properly feed themselves most adults I know cant even accomplish this so I guess im wrong but really how can what we are doing be right.

      May 28, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
    • Anne Barounos

      Agree entirely – duh! Do people really get paid to produce studies of such patently obvious things?

      May 28, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
    • Mark Glicker

      I am sure that it was another $10,000,000 well spent.

      May 30, 2012 at 12:19 | Report abuse |
  2. neeve mcbride


    May 28, 2012 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. neeve mcbride

    Bryon, how do you keep a child's self esteem up? And why is it that Americans expect their schools to teach their children values that are not taught, or modeled, or upheld at home. You're kidding yourself about what you think schools are in place to do.

    May 28, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bryon

      You really misunderstand what I'm trying to say. I'm saying that teaching a child how to deal with their anger, passions and feelings can go a long way in teaching how to control themselves. Most outburst of anger and bullying is because of misplaced feelings/temper problems. Schools are there to provide a safe place to learn how to be productive members of our race/country/species. Learning in the books and the standers tests are not working, never have. There is a problem here, kids are committing suicide for bullying tell me that ignoring the problem will help. I'm not saying I have the answers im saying what we are doing is NOT WORKING. P.S You have no idea the values that are taught in my home, I do not currently have kids because I am realistic about my life goals and know I do not currently have the time to donate to that: I want to have time for my kids. Also who says im located in the US

      May 28, 2012 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
  4. Steve C.

    I want some free grant money too!

    May 28, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sunny

    Good grief, any mommy could have told those researchers that!

    May 28, 2012 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. MysteriaKiito

    So are they telling us to not let our kids be friends with lazy kids?

    May 28, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. chill

    Schools Need2focus On Teaching Reading Writing Science Math History Etc. Parents Should Be Seriously Held Accountable4teaching Good Behavior2children. If We As A Nation Seriously Hold Each Party Accountable4these Different Tasks, Our Nation Would See Dramatic Improvements In A Very Short Time! I Pray This Comment Finds Its Way2president Obama!

    May 28, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. chill

    Anymore Constructive Ideas

    May 28, 2012 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Issac Menendez

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

    June 2, 2012 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jlgg


    December 29, 2016 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.