Meeting Physical Activity Guidelines: The Role of Personal Networks Among Residents of Low-Income Communities

Am J Prev Med. 2017 Sep;53(3):385-391. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.04.007. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


Introduction: Despite known benefits of regular physical activity (PA), residents of low-income communities have disproportionately high rates of physical inactivity. Mounting evidence suggests that social network characteristics may be associated with health behaviors, including PA. The purpose of the current study was to examine associations between egocentric network characteristics and meeting PA guidelines among residents of low-income and predominantly African-American communities.

Methods: Data from the Greenville Healthy Neighborhoods Project (2014), a cross-sectional study, examined social network characteristics, including the PA behavior of social ties, and whether participants met PA guidelines (150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise). Respondent-driven sampling (non-random) was utilized to recruit participants (n=430) within eight low-income communities. Logistic regression analyses, performed in 2016, included robust sandwich estimation to account for clustering (non-independence) of observations.

Results: Participants were predominantly older (M=54.4 years, SD=15.1 years), African American (88.0%), and female (70.7%). More than one third of participants had an annual household income <$15,000 (41.6%) or reported meeting the current aerobic PA guidelines (45.8%). Controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, greater network extensity (based on the occupation of ego's network ties; OR=1.11, 95% CI=1.03, 1.20, p=0.02) and a higher percentage of physically active network members (OR=1.97, 95% CI=1.02, 3.82, p=0.04) were associated with higher odds of meeting PA guidelines.

Conclusions: Social network characteristics are associated with individual PA behavior among residents of low-income communities. Interventions to increase PA among low-income and predominantly African-American communities should leverage personal networks, including the implementation of walking groups or buddy systems.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Networking*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires