Objective - The promotion of child physical activity (PA) has been linked to many positive health outcomes. Despite the health benefits, many children do not meet guidelines. Research suggests an adolescent’s social relationships have a significant impact on their PA and sedentary behavior. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is both a set of theories and methodologies used to measure and understand the social influences that may affect a person and their health behaviors. While reviews of SNA studies investigating child PA have been conducted before, numerous new studies have been published since these reviews were conducted. An updated, comprehensive review of all SNA studies investigating child PA would synthesize important social contexts and relationships associated with child PA that does not presently exist in the literature. The goal of this study was to conduct a systematic review of the literature pertaining to child PA and sedentary behavior that applies SNA as an analysis tool.
Methods - A search of the literature revealed 11,824 articles refined to a final sample of 33 articles. All articles included focused on children or adolescents, measured PA or sedentary behavior, and collected social network data. Study design, type of network data collected, PA data collected, findings, and conclusions were extracted from all articles that met inclusion criteria.
Results - Articles reviewed used a variety of study designs (cross-section, longitudinal, and experimental) and data analysis techniques (ERGM, Stochastic Modeling, ect.). Whole network and ego network data were collected and analyzed across studies, revealing the overall finding that a child’s social network plays an important role in current and future activity behavior. Specifically, total network PA, number and gender of friends, and reciprocated ties predict current and future activity.
Conclusions - While the impact of a child’s social network is evident in their PA behaviors, more research is needed to examine how and why these networks form in relation to PA and sedentary behavior. Special attention should be place on explicitly explaining name generators and statistical analysis used to improve reproducibility. Future researchers should use interventions utilizing SNA to more effectively promote PA, especially in underserved or minority populations.