BACKGROUND and PURPOSE Adolescents’ physical activity (PA) behaviors are greatly impacted by their social environment. Peer support is associated with increased time engaging in vigorous levels of PA and increased positive perceptions of PA for adolescents. Additionally, when PA is a social norm within a network, individuals are more likely to be active. The potential effects of social relationships on PA can be examined by using social network analysis (SNA). SNA is a set of theories and methodologies designed to help researchers understand the social influences that may affect a person and their health behaviors.
OBJECTIVES This study aimed to examine the network properties related to an adolescent’s perception of their own PA. Additionally, significant predictors of the network’s perception of the adolescent’s PA was assessed as well.
METHODS Adolescents (n=101, M age = 9.72, SD = 1.37) from a summer care program participated in one-on-one interviews. They were asked about demographic information (59% male; 35% Black; 23% Hispanic; 21.7% white), perceived PA levels, physical literacy, and their social networks. Adolescents indicated up to five people they hung around with, talked to, and spent the most time with while at the program. Adolescents were then asked several questions about the people they had mentioned including sex, age, whether the person helped them to be active, and how active they thought each person was. Network data were analyzed using UCINET software in order to calculate network variables, including in-degree, in-closeness, betweenness, and network composition. Hierarchical linear regression analyses predicting the adolescent’s perception of their own PA, as well as their network’s perception of their PA were conducted.
RESULTS Hierarchical linear regression analyses suggest network variables explain not only an adolescent’s perception of their own PA, but also their network’s perception of their PA. The average PA score across the adolescent’s network was predictive of the amount of PA an adolescent self-reported. Physical literacy and in-closeness predicted an adolescent’s network’s perception of the amount of PA they engaged in.
CONCLUSIONS Adolescents perceived themselves to be more physically active if they perceived their friends were more physically active. This may infer a sense of social norms for PA. Further, adolescents who perceived themselves as being more physically competent and who were more central in the network were perceived as more active by their peers, on average.
IMPLICAIONS FOR PRACTICE AND POLICY This work helps to understand the social norms and network influences on adolescent friendship networks and PA at summer care programs. Practitioners and researchers may wish to focus PA interventions related to summer care programs based on network position and social context.