A randomized controlled trial testing a social network intervention to promote physical activity among adolescents

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The current study examined the effectiveness of a social network intervention to promote physical activity among adolescents. Social network interventions utilize peer influence to change behavior by identifying the most influential individuals within social networks (i.e., influence agents), and training them to promote the target behavior. A total of 190 adolescents (46.32% boys; M age = 12.17, age range 11–14 years) were randomly allocated to either the intervention or control condition. In the intervention condition, the most influential adolescents (based on peer nominations of classmates) in each classroom were trained to promote physical activity among their classmates. Participants received a research smartphone to complete questionnaires and an accelerometer to measure physical activity (steps per day) at baseline, and during the intervention one month later. A multilevel model tested the effectiveness of the intervention, controlling for clustering of data within participants and days. No intervention effect was observed, b = .04, SE = .10, p = .66. This was one of the first studies to test whether physical activity in adolescents could be promoted via influence agents, and the first social network intervention to use smartphones to do so. Important lessons and implications are discussed concerning the selection criterion of the influence agents, the use of smartphones in social network intervention, and the rigorous analyses used to control for confounding factors.

BMC Public Health