Introduction: Latinx and African American children are disproportionately affected by obesity and often do not engage in enough physical activity (PA) to yield health benefits. Because children are less active during the summer compared to the school year, summer care programs can provide structure and social support needed for PA promotion. These summer care programs also provide a place for children to connect and make friends. Children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds form, maintain, and interact within their social networks in different ways. Further, diversity in friendship networks, or having friends of other races, ethnicities, and classes is hypothesized to improve mental health as well as buffer negative discrimination on well-being and school outcomes.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine how race/ethnicity relate to social connections and PA within a summer care program using social network analysis.
Methods: Children (n=100) self-reported race/ethnicity, PA, and friends at a summer care program before and after summer. ANOVAs were used to determine significant differences between race/ethnicity in network composition. Exponential random graph modeling and separable temporal exponential random graph modeling were used to determine significant factors related to tie presence at each time point as well as tie formation, maintenance, and dissolution over time.
Results: PA did not significantly differ based on race/ethnicity or time. African American children reported significantly more same race friends and more friends who helped them to be active. Additionally, children were more likely to make friends with and remain friends with those of the same race/ethnicity throughout the summer. PA was also related to a child’s social connections at the end of summer regardless of race/ethnicity.
Conclusions: This study supported our hypothesis in that children were likely to form and maintain friendships with others from the same race or ethnicity, and network composition varied based on race and ethnicity. However, our findings that PA behaviors were similar across race/ethnicity deviate from our original hypothesis. Finally, this study builds on previous literature by suggesting PA might serve as a mechanism for connecting children within a summer care program regardless of race or ethnicity. Using active play to connect children may promote diverse friend networks at these programs.