Introduction: Physical activity (PA) is widely linked to positive health outcomes among adolescents. Unfortunately, 80% of adolescents world-wide do not meet daily recommendations, which may be due to perceived barriers to PA. Peer groups and interactions with others significantly affect PA behaviors among adolescents. This study aims to analyze how perceived barriers are distributed throughout an adolescent friendship network and how these barriers may impact objective PA measures.
Methods: Adolescents (n=381, M=10.77 years, SD=1.30 years, 51.4% male) were recruited from 12 different schools. Adolescents reported frequency of experiencing five types of barriers to PA: body, social, resource, convenience, and fitness. Adolescents nominated their friends using a list of all included study participants. Accelerometers were used to measure average steps and minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity PA (MVPA) per day. Linear network autocorrelation models determined if barrier scores were clustered within networks while controlling for school, age, and sex; and to analyze possible impact of barriers on objective PA measures.
Results: Body (p=.001) and social (p=.02) subscale scores displayed significant network effects, suggesting adolescents perceived similar amounts of body and social barriers as their friends. Models for both MVPA and steps per day displayed significant network effects suggesting adolescent MVPA and steps per day were significantly associated to that of their friends. Average steps per day were significantly associated with age (β=499.55,p<.001), sex (male;β=1,562.77,p<.001), and social barriers (β=1,019.35,p=.01), while inversely associated with fitness barriers (β=-1,228.29,p=.001).
Conclusions: This research suggests adolescents’ perceived PA barriers are significantly impacted by social connections. Researchers and practitioners aiming to reduce barriers may wish to assess peer reinforcing effects, particularly those related to social and body barriers. Similarly, results suggest intervention efforts that consider an adolescents’ friendship networks could be more effective in increasing activity levels as compared to individual-level interventions alone.