Differences in active play networks and self-reported physical activity among children at summer care programs


BACKGROUND and PURPOSE Despite many health benefits, children engage in significantly less physical activity (PA) in summer with noted disparity between sexes. Summer care programs involve structured opportunities for PA, especially among children from lower-income families. This presentation examines sex differences in child friendship networks inside and outside summer care programs and associations with self-reported PA across two timepoints in summer.

OBJECTIVES After this presentation, the participants will be able to explain how a child’s social network can change over summer while attending a summer care program and how a child’s social network is related to summertime PA.

METHODS Children at two summer care programs (i.e., Boys & Girls Clubs) reported PA and information regarding up to five people they hung around with at the program and five outside the program. T-tests were used to compare network composition between sexes and timepoints. Ordinal regression was used to evaluate associations between self-reported PA and network composition.

RESULTS 182 children (mean age=9.93 years; SD=1.28) were surveyed at the beginning of summer (time 1) and 175 adolescents (mean age=9.73 years; SD=1.30) were surveyed at the end of summer (time 2). Boys reported significantly more PA than girls at both timepoints. At time 1, boys perceived significantly greater average PA in their ‘out of program’ networks compared to girls (t(180)=2.42, p=0.02). Children reported significantly more total friends (t(164)=2.44, p=.002 for boys; t(189)=3.53, p<.001 for girls) and more friends they actively played with often while at the program (t(164)=2.04, p=.04 for boys; t(189)=2.70, p=.01 for girls) at time 2 when compared to time 1. Average PA of in-program friends was significantly associated with higher levels PA for both boys and girls. An increase in the average PA within a child’s in-program network was associated with an almost 200% increase in the odds of a child self-reporting more PA.

CONCLUSIONS This study supports previous literature regarding sex differences in child PA while filling a gap in knowledge regarding summer care program social dynamics. Results suggest children are influenced by the PA of their social connections at these summer care programs. Given the significance of the in-program network PA, more studies should acknowledge factors including access to summer care programming when assessing summertime PA.

IMPLICAIONS FOR PRACTICE AND POLICY This presentation provides evidence summer care programs may be increasingly important to child PA during the summer. Additionally, this presentation suggests summer care programs help expand children’ social networks in and outside of the program. This is important for social development and mental health, and based on other network studies examining child PA, can also result in even greater PA engagement.

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