When it comes to fitness and your kids, it's all about peer pressure. A new study finds that the single biggest influence on your kids' physical activity levels is how active their best friends are.
In the study, researcher Sabina Gesell and her team from the Vanderbilt School of Medicine in the US found that kids who have active peers exercise more.
Published on May 28 in the journal Pediatrics, the study examined the social networks of kids ages 5 to 12 in an after-school program. Researchers tracked kids' physical activity levels over a period of 12 weeks. At the beginning of the program, none of the children knew one another, so the researchers could then track friendship patterns and what effect relationships had on their activity levels.
The biggest factor influencing their physical fitness: their four to six closest friends, with children changing their exercise level by 10 percent to match those of their pals. Children who befriended less active students decreased their activity, while those who became chummy with more active groups boosted their activity levels.
Researchers say that the findings could offer an inexpensive and effective way to motivate kids to get off the couch -- rather than relying on organized exercise programs or "drowning kids in messages to get moving," simply introduce sedentary kids to more active ones, writes Time magazine on the study.
The Time article also cites that kids in day care could use an activity boost. A recent study found that children in day care are active only about 2 to 3 percent of the time during which they are there -- and experts say that is simply not enough to override the obesity epidemic and to establish healthy habits that can last a lifetime.