There is evidence that the presence of a friend increases physical activity behavior in schoolaged children (≥ 8 years old) and in young adolescents. Little is known about the developmental trajectory of the effects of peer influences on children’s physical activity. Therefore, we sought to test the effect of the presence versus absence of a friend on physical activity in young children (≤ 6 years old).
Physical activity was assessed, via accelerometery, in 3- to 6-year-old children, during 2 social conditions: alone and in the presence of a friend. During each condition, children were taken to a gymnasium and had free access to physical and sedentary activities for 30 minutes. In one condition children were tested alone (solo play), whereas in the other they were tested in the presence of a friend who had access to the same activities.
Children exhibited 54% greater (P < .02) average accelerometer counts during the friend condition (mean = 2629, SD = 1080 or 5.7 METs) than during the solo play condition (mean = 1707, SD = 1009 or 4.5 METs).
The presence of a friend contributes to increased physical activity behavior in young children.