DANVILLE - New studies find that children with more friends are more likely to be physically active and maintain healthy lifestyles.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed that activity patterns are directly influenced by a child's friendship networks. The study monitored children in two after school programs to determine whether existing friendships played a key role in activity levels. The startling results showed that children were six times more likely to adjust to their friends' activity levels and adopt a similar lifestyle.
"Most children between the ages of five and 12 will choose friends with similar interests and if their friends are active, they seem to be active as well," said William Malone, M.D., pediatrician, Geisinger Medical Center. "As a result, children should be encouraged to create and maintain healthy friendships that will lead to their own healthy lifestyles."
According to the CDC, about 12 million children regularly spend time in child care facilities outside of their home. While all states don't have licensing regulations in place to ensure that facilities incorporate physical activity and healthful eating, doctors agree these efforts need to increase across the board.
Since 1980, obesity rates among children have almost tripled. Research shows that up to one out of every five children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. If children are overweight, obesity in adulthood is likely to occur and may even be more severe.
"A child's overall diet and activity level play an important role in determining their weight," said Dr. Malone. "Physical activity should be included in a child's daily routine, just as eating and sleeping. It is recommended that children fit 60 minutes or more of physical activity into their daily lives, and this new information goes a long way in showing the vitally important role a child's social network plays in staying fit and healthy."