Background: Physical activity (PA) declines throughout childhood at the same time as peer influence on behaviour strengthens. This study explores associations between an individuals’ PA in late childhood/early adolescence and characteristics of their personal friendship network.
Methods: Data were collected from 310 participants aged 11-13 from fifteen primary schools in Victoria (43% response rate). PA was assessed objectively via ActiGraph accelerometer and subjectively via a child self-report questionnaire. Height and weight measurements were used to calculate zBMI. Participants identified up to fifteen friends, and reported their perceived PA intensity and interaction patterns of each friend. Gender specific regression models identified associations between participants’ personal network characteristics and PA behaviours.
Results: Twenty-seven percent of participants (43% boys; 17% girls) met moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) guidelines. Associations between PA and peer network characteristics were patterned by gender. Among boys, the number of friends, frequency of contact with friends, and friends of the same sex were positively associated with MVPA outside of school hours. For girls, playing sport with friends was positively associated with MVPA after school, and school recess and lunch PA intensity. A higher proportion of friends who were very active and with whom girls had frequent contact were also associated with higher MVPA on weekends.
Conclusion: Different peer network characteristics were associated with PA in late childhood depending on gender. Social networks represent an important element in interventions to promote PA from late childhood through to adolescence.