Background: Co-participating in physical activity (PA) with others is associated with higher levels of PA in youth. However, PA can occur in several social contexts and few researchers have longitudinally compared associations of different social contexts with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) or whether having many people available to participate in PA with is associated with greater MVPA. We examined whether changes in different social contexts of PA and variety of PA companions are associated with changes in MVPA across elementary/middle school (Grades 5-8) and secondary school (Grades 8-11).
Methods: Youth (N=938) completed questionnaires tri-annually from Grades 5-11 on weekly frequency of PA participation in five social contexts (i.e., with teammates, siblings, friends, parents/grandparents, or alone) and number of days/week meeting recommended levels of MVPA (i.e., ?60 minutes/day). Unstandardized path coefficients (B) within piecewise latent growth models are interpreted as change in MVPA for every one unit change in the social context of PA (multivariate model) or variety of PA companions (univariate model).
Results: Declines in variety of PA companions was associated with decreases in days/week meeting MVPA recommendations in elementary/middle (B=1.53, SE=0.60, p<.05) and secondary school (B=1.10, SE=0.15, p<.001). Decreases in weekly frequency of PA with friends during secondary school was associated with declines in days/week meeting MVPA recommendations (B=0.63, SE=0.31, p<.001), whereas no associations were observed for elementary/middle school.
Conclusion: Promoting PA engagement with a variety of companions during elementary/middle school and secondary school, and participation in PA with friends during secondary school may help reduce declines in MVPA.