Associations within school-based same-sex friendship networks of children's physical activity and sedentary behaviours: a cross-sectional social network analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Bristol
  • University of Bath


Background: Physical activity in children is associated with better physical and mental health but many children do not meet physical activity guidelines. Friendship groups are potentially an important influence on children’s physical activity and sedentary time. This paper examines the association between children of physical activity and sedentary time in school-based same-sex friendship networks, for both moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) and sedentary time. Moreover, considering the methodological challenges of conducting and interpreting these analyses, we provide examples of how to analyse these data and interpret results to encourage further work in the area.

Methods: Accelerometer data for 1223 children, aged 8-9 years, were collected in 2015-2016 and analysed in 2017. Mean accelerometer minutes of MVPA and sedentary time were calculated. Children named up to four school friends and same-sex school-based friendship networks were constructed. Network models, which include correlation between friends, were fitted by sex.

Results: Both MVPA and sedentary time were found to be associated via the friendship networks, for both boys and girls. The network autocorrelation was 0.21 (95% CI: 0.15 to 0.26) for boys’ MVPA, and 0.14 (95% CI: 0.07 to 0.21) for sedentary time. Network autocorrelation between girls was weaker, with 0.13 (95% CI: 0.06 to 0.19) for MVPA and 0.11 (95% CI: 0.05 to 0.17) for sedentary time.

Conclusions: Physical activity and sedentary time of boys and girls are associated with the physical activity and sedentary time respectively of others within same-sex friendship networks, and these associations are comparable to other known factors. In this study, the correlation between friends was stronger for boys than girls, and stronger for MVPA than for sedentary time. These findings suggest that friendship networks play a part in understanding children’s physical activity and sedentary time and could play a valuable role in developing effective interventions.


Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalThe International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2018


  • social network , peers , physical activity , sedentary time