Some studies show that health behaviors tend to spread within groups of friends like a virus — meaning that if your friends tend to be overweight or obese, chances are, you will be, too.
But can the same be said for young children?
A new study to be published in the June 2012 issue of Pediatrics found that the amount of time children spend participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity is strongly influenced by their friendship network.
It makes sense that children who choose to be active during playground time would be more likely to make friends with others who are active, too. But when a child is drawn to friends who tend to be less active, how can parents encourage more activity?
It can be a constant challenge to ensure that kids are engaging in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, says Phoenix pediatrician Nadia Rao Day, M.D., of Pediatric Associates, P.C., especially with cell phones, video games, TV and the Internet competing for more and more of a child’s attention.
Day, a member of the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that parental involvement is most instrumental in encouraging children to have a fun, healthy and active lifestyle. It’s simple, she says: Active parents raise active kids. “When kids see parents enjoying these activities with them, they will be less likely to resist the outdoors in favor of screen time.”
Day’s quick tips for ramping up physical activity levels:
- Schedule family hikes, evening walks, or pool parties.
- Encourage play dates to be active experiences. Head to the nearest park, or walk around the zoo.
- Invite neighborhood friends over and fill the back yard with balls, jump ropes and hula hoops.
Organized sports or activities can also be a great way for kids to be active with their friends, says Day, but remember to keep it age-appropriate and fun. “Despite the influence of electronics, says Day, “we can positively influence our children’s physical activity level.”