Friendship networks and physical activity and sedentary behavior among youth: a systematized review

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013 Dec 1;10:130. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-10-130.


Background: Low levels of physical activity and increased participation in sedentary leisure-time activities are two important obesity-risk behaviors that impact the health of today's youth. Friend's health behaviors have been shown to influence individual health behaviors; however, current evidence on the specific role of friendship networks in relation to levels of physical activity and sedentary behavior is limited. The purpose of this review was to summarize evidence on friendship networks and both physical activity and sedentary behavior among children and adolescents.

Method: After a search of seven scientific databases and reference scans, a total of thirteen articles were eligible for inclusion. All assessed the association between friendship networks and physical activity, while three also assessed sedentary behavior.

Results: Overall, higher levels of physical activity among friends are associated with higher levels of physical activity of the individual. Longitudinal studies reveal that an individual's level of physical activity changes to reflect his/her friends' higher level of physical activity. Boys tend to be influenced by their friendship network to a greater extent than girls. There is mixed evidence surrounding a friend's sedentary behavior and individual sedentary behavior.

Conclusion: Friends' physical activity level appears to have a significant influence on individual's physical activity level. Evidence surrounding sedentary behavior is limited and mixed. Results from this review could inform effective public health interventions that harness the influence of friends to increase physical activity levels among children and adolescents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors